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Hey Ama Dablam, I'm Back!

Updated: Jan 9



Ama Dablam Summit (22,349ft)

Some people might think I was getting revenge or trying to conquer Ama Dablam again. Actually, it was neither of these. I simply wanted to return to a place that is stunningly beautiful and magical. I was eager to discover the challenge and mystery that lies beyond Camp 2. Ama Dablam’s magnetic energy kept luring me in, day after day for two full years. She was constantly on my mind and there was no way I could avoid the inevitable return to climb her steep and technical slopes. My inability to summit last year due to a lung infection gave me the perfect excuse to return this year. It brought me together, one on one, with my Sherpa brother, LD Sherpa. With him, it was guaranteed that I’ll have the time of my life and maximize my chances of getting to the summit. Last year, LD Sherpa and I were the life of the party. We ran up and down the Khumbu Valley like free-spirited children at play, took a bunch of funny faced selfies, and laughed our hearts out. Of course, there were moments when I lost it, struggling to take another step, cursing at the mountain gods while stomping my feet on the ground. But even then, LD was by my side, waiting for the steam to blow off and then gently leading me onwards. This year, thanks to the arrangements made by Pasang Sherpa with Peak Promotions, I was able to reunite with LD Sherpa again and feel supported by a wonderful logistics team.


LD Sherpa and I


9.26.23

The feeling inside of returning to Nepal was too incredible for words. I knew this was going to be a life changing experience and felt confident that this time I would make it to the top of Ama Dablam. After all, I wanted it more than anything and trained my ass off daily for two years. I wasn’t about to sweat the little stuff and was ready for whatever challenge came my way.


I flew from Portalnd to Istanbul, Turkey and then to Katmandu

Yet, no trip to Nepal ever goes smoothly. Our flight to Kathmandu was stuck on the tarmac for 2.5 hours with just a short statement from the pilot explaining that there was a “mechanical problem”. After that, no updates. We simply started moving and took off after waiting nervously without a single follow up statement from the pilot. It was later apparent that Turkish Airlines was notorious for long delays and lack of communication. No major issues though since the flight itself was fairly smooth and I had a 5- hour layover in Istanbul.


Istanbul Airport

Istanbul International Airport was huge! Equipped with an inhouse hotel, sleeping capsules, and a zillion stores and restaurants. A fun airport if you have extra time, a nightmare if you have to make a tight layover. When making my return flight reservation, I noticed that the layover in Istanbul was only 1 hour and 20 minutes and the flight in from Nepal is usually at least 30 minutes late! I called Turkish Airlines before the flight and the rep told me not to worry, “There’s plenty of time”. A total travel time of 21 hours was also very appealing, compared to the average 30 hours it takes to return home from Nepal.

FASTFORWARD (returning flight)…

Well, long story short, I missed my return flight from Istanbul and had to stay there overnight. There were seven other Nepalese who were making the same flight connection from Nepal who also did not make it either. Among them, was a couple from Kathmandu who was in charge of taking their friend’s elderly mother back to the USA. They were unaware that she was mentally ill and refused to sleep or eat outside of her home in Nepal. When we arrived in Istanbul she laid down on the road and refused to go any further. We tried to get her to stand up but she would just collapse back down. That poor couple had to stay in a hospital in Istanbul for another few days and wait for the elderly woman’s son to arrive from the USA.

REWIND (back to arrival in Kathmandu)…

I chose a hotel in Kathmandu that was only a 5-minute walk from the airport and the nicest one I’ve stayed at in Nepal. For a measly $40, I had an air conditioner, shower, and comfortable bed. A little pricey for Kathmandu but just what I needed for a comfortable night’s rest before a tremendous trip. Other hotels in the area average around $15 but do not have anything but a bed.

Despite how nice the hotel was, without electricity there’s no way to get to my room, or do anything else in the hotel for that matter. This is exactly what happened roughly every 6 hours while I was in Kathmandu. This entire city literally went black and everything came to a screeching halt. Nobody seemed to care since blackouts are such a common occurrence. They even have a saying in Nepali that goes something like “Electricity: One second it’s here, the next it’s gone”.


All packed up and ready to go!

Wandering around the streets of Kathmandu is one of the most exciting experiences anyone visiting Nepal could have. There’s always something extremely entertaining going on. After landing in Kathmandu, I had all day to explore and was too excited to rest after the 28 hr long tip.

That day I visited a school in Thamel and saw hundreds of school children dancing and running around in circles while chanting in unison. They were dressed in red robes and wearing funny looking masks. Nearby, there was an almost naked man with red paint all over him, sitting and meditating on a concrete fence adjacent to the school. Across the street there was a man carving wood to make musical instruments. And surrounding us was the smell of burning incense and thick dust from unpaved city streets. The sound of children singing, chaotic traffic, mixed with the smell of delicious food and incense put me into a deep trance. There is so much to admire and enjoy despite the craziness of this crowded and dirty city.


The streets of Thamel, Kathmandu




After returning to the hotel and putting everything I needed for the climb into my backpack, I realized that it was much heavier than expected, weighing about 60 lbs. I’d eventually have to haul this all the way to Ama Dablam base Camp. About 30 lbs will be stored in Pangboche and then I’ll continue onward to the Three Passes of Kongma, Chola, and Renjo, then climb Kala Patar and Gokyo-Ri. Afterwards, I’ll return to Pangboche, pick up the rest of my climbing gear and climb up to Ama Dablam base camp.

 

9/27/23

I woke up a 4:15AM to make the 7:25AM twin otter plane ride to Lukla – the most dangerous airport in the world. Before leaving for Nepal, my patient who is a helicopter pilot, made me promise him that I would be safe and take a helicopter instead of a plane to Lukla. The only issues was that all the helicopters were grounded for two months due to a recent crash that needed further investigating! They were also discontinuing flights from Kathmandu to Lukla the following day! So that day was really my only chance to fly out. It was either a 40 minute flight or 16 hours of backcountry jeep riding through the woods on extremely bumpy dirt roads!

Unfortunately, planes cannot fly out of Kathmandu unless weather is perfect – clear skies and no wind. Neither of these were present the day we were scheduled to take off. We waited 8 hours on the floor in that tiny airport until finally they quietly turned around the teeny little sign which read, “flight delayed”, to “check in”. This was after most of the people in the airport gave up and went back to their hotel rooms. While sitting on the airport floor, I made friends with a guide from Chicago, who’s hippy parents took her to the Himalayas yearly since she was a little girl and let her run around unguided. We talked so much about climbing that I didn’t realize 8 hours had passed. She told me there were times they had to wait for weeks for good flying weather, so eight hours was nothing. She was right!!


Katmandu domestic airport

While waiting for my flight I ran into LD Sherpa who was also waiting with his clients for a flight to Lukla. My plan was to meet up again at Ama Dablam base camp after he is done guiding to Everest Base Camp. Sadly, he gave up waiting only 30 minutes before flights started to take off. I was on one of only 3 small planes that took off that day for Lukla. Everyone else had to take the 16 hour jeep ride or fly to Ramechap and then take a 6 hour jeep ride. Shortly after sprinting to the check in counter with all of my gear, the check in attendant said my bag was too heavy for the flight. At first, for some reason, I thought this meant I cannot fly and that I was doomed. But then someone pointed out to me that she wants my money. “This is Nepal, anything is possible as long as you have cash!” So I gave her an extra $20, she smiled, and off I went WITH a plane ticket.

The flight to Lukla was a heart-wrenching experience. We bounced all over the place while the pilots were pointing their fingers left and then right indicating to each other where to avoid clouds. Once in a while the clouds cleared and we could see the side of a mountain directly underneath or in front of the plane. “Phew… close call” I kept saying to myself. The pilots tried to fly below the clouds for increased visibility, but that just meant we’d have to hop over the mountain ridges.


Flight to Lukla




Landing in Lukla safe and unharmed always feels like a miracle. This small town nested between mountains is so adorable with tiny little shops aligning cobblestone pathways. Everything you need and more can be bought here despite the fact that it is over 100 miles from Kathmandu, without roads and isolated from the rest of the world. Everything from bakeries, tea shops, cute hotels, restaurants, bars, you name it… all within the half mile stretch of this tiny but fortified town surrounded by nothing but raw Himalayan mountainous landscape.

People here are very social and love to strike conversations with travelers. I met a young middle-schooler who spoke little English but kept asking me for my cell phone. He insisted that I give it to him, as if it was my duty to donate. So instead I told him to study a lot, get a nice job and make enough money later to buy one himself. Another boy grabbed my nose and said “big”! I grabbed his back and said “choto” which means “short” in Nepalese. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough cuteness, a scrawny little young boy around the age of 5 walked up to all the passing trekkers took off his shirt, flexed his muscles and yelled, “Grrrrrr!!!” I absolutely loved engaging with the locals. It gave me a chance to get to know their culture and to practice Nepali.


Muscle boy

It must have been a bit early in the season because I was the only one staying at Lama Hotel in Lukla! Returning to Lukla on my way back home was a different story. There were no rooms left. The hotel was run by a young Nepali man and his wife. They had a son about the age of 4 who studies daily with his mom. That evening when the power went out, mom and son sat at the table with headlamps reviewing the English alphabet. Everyone in the family was nervous because tomorrow was their son’s first English test in school. The owner discussed with me how he could arrange just about any climb in the Himalayas for a steeply discounted price. He even offered to work as a climbing company business partner with me! Hmmm… the possibilities!



Despite going from sea level (home) to 9,000ft (elevation of Lukla) I’m not feeling any altitude related symptoms. I’d usually experience at least a light headache in the past. Not sure if it’s because of training or the fact that I wanted this trip to be a success more than anyone could imagine.

9.28

After a refreshing sleep and a huge breakfast, I set off to begin my trek. It was slow going with all the weight but I felt strong and ready for the challenge. I was stopped by several trekkers and Sherpas along the way asking me how much weight I’m carrying. A few groups asked if I can pose for a picture with them. I must have been quite the spectacle – a white guy with a gigantic porter-sized load on his back!

Despite being slow, I was making good progress and arrived in Phakding before noon. This was the place we stayed last year. It was still early and so I kept going a few more hours and stayed in Monjo. The owner of Yeti lodge suggested I stay at Namaste Lodge. When I arrived there, the door was wide open but the lodge was completely empty. After waiting about 20 minutes, the owner casually showed up and seemed to be disappointed that I was there. She greeted me, showed me to the room, and then went back to another lodge where she was having tea with a friend. That night after using the bathroom I flushed the toilet and the water sprayed upward towards the ceiling about 10 feet high, quicky flooding the bathroom. I tried everything I could to turn it off, but the situation continued to worsen. Since the owner was nowhere in sight, I decided to gently shut the bathroom door and walk quietly to my room and call it a day. That evening the lodge owner cooked dinner, it was rice and steamed weeds. Despite being one of the worst places I could have possible stayed at, the view from Namaste Lodge of the rock faced valley below and snow-capped mountains above was nothing short of spectacular.


Phakding

The weather was very dry and sunny last year filling the valley with dust. This is what I believe contributed to the lung infection that cost me the summit bid. Luckily, it rained a lot this year so dust wasn’t an issue. I was so worried that it would put the brakes on my expedition this year that I trained several days week before the trip with a dust mask on. Thank goodness I did not need one this time because trying to breathe through a dust mask at this altitude wound up being an extremely difficult task.

9.29

The Monjo checkpoint was crowded with police holding large rifles. Sure, many of us are carrying sharp objects like crampons and ice-axes, but otherwise how much of a threat could we be? And honestly, how many of us would want to smuggle drugs up a dead-end trekking route or up and over Everest into Tibet? Although the police are very intimidating, they are still courteous and appreciate when I speak Nepali. They asked whether or not I am carrying a drone. As I will soon see on Ama Dablam, there are drones flying on every mountain and I doubt most of them are permitted. There’s nothing more annoying that climbing a rock face have having someone’s drone buzz right by your head.

Today’s goal was to take steep switchbacks all the way up to Namche Bazaar (11,286ft). Namche is the heart of the Khumbu Valley with many comfortable lodges, bars, art galleries, and coffee shops. What makes this town so beautiful is not just the surrounding mountains but the perfect blend between manmade structures and nature. It’s difficult to distinguish where the architecture ends and the mountains begin in Namche.


Typical heavy load carried by porter.

Along the way, it was common to see Sherpas and porters taking every little piece of gear up for their clients. True, most Sherpas are a lot stronger than their clients, but I can’t help but think how they can be easily taken advantage of with their kind and empathetic nature. Sherpas are extremely friendly and always willing to offer a helping hand.

9.30

My plan was to stay in Namche for a few days to rest and acclimatize. I stayed at Hilltop Lodge which was perched above the town of Namche overlooking the valley below. Getting to the lodge requires climbing hundreds of stairs through the town and is a climb in itself. Just going to and from the town of Namche from the lodge is an acclimatization trek in itself.

I was immediately greeted when arriving at Hilltop by the owner’s daughter who not only remembered me, but also asked how my Korean wife and daughter were. I’d imagine there were hundreds if not thousands of climbers there between my visits and felt humbled by her kindness.

I had a little headache when arriving at the lodge but nothing a little rest, self-massage, and water couldn’t take care of. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised with how well I felt despite the weight on my back and the coldness of the mountains. Was it because of all the training or simply because deep inside I was so ready mentally to make this trip a success?

To my surprise, LD Sherpa’s porter, also named Lakpa, showed up at the lodge carrying his client’s gear on his back. Lakpa had the body of a twenty-year-old but otherwise looked like an older man. He told me, in fluent English, that he was pushing 60 years old. He continued by saying, “to make money in Nepal, you have to be everything. One minute I’m a porter, and the next, I’m a guide. Whatever it takes.” Later, I would see him several more times in the mountain. At one point, he became a Sherpa guide, then a cook, a construction worker (digging pit behind the lodge and building a structure), a Yak dung transporter, and then a porter again. I saw him at several different lodges and then suddenly at camp 2 on Ama Dablam carrying a client’s heavy load. This man was literally everywhere and never stopped to sit down for even a second. I later found out that he climbed Ama Dablam 16 times and Everest 6 times, but was at one point an alcoholic. It wasn’t until only 8 or so years ago that he stopped drinking and became active. I have never seen anyone as active and hardworking as this man. Lakpa is an extremely humble man and when I asked to take a picture with him, he said “are you sure”? When I told him how strong I thought he was, he also asked “are you sure”?


Lakpa and I at Hilltop Lodge

LD showed up shortly after and we greeting each other with a warm hug. That evening I got acquainted with his clients Spencer and his father from Washington. After trekking with LD, Spencer, an avid climber in the PNW, planned to climb Island Peak. He hoped to eventually return to the Himalayas to climb K2. He is strongly driven but also a very chill and friendly dude. He moved from Pennsylvania to Washington in order to climb more mountains. His father is a cook for famous rock bands and dignitaries. He told me stories about working for Motley Crew, Taylor Swift, and Neal Young. He even worked at one point for royalty in Saudi Arabia! His job was basically to cook and give them what they wanted to eat or drink, even if it meant shipping items in overnight from around the world. Mountaineers come in all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. That night I met a group from Australia guided by a man who tried climbing Ama Dablam 3 times already without getting to the summit. I asked if he will try again this time and he said “hell, no! I’m done”. He’ll be supporting the group logistically without leaving base camp. That evening I met another very sweet couple from Germany that planned to trek the Three Passes. We met up again later on at a lodge in Dzongle and had dinner together.





10.1

Today was my acclimatization hike up to 12,800 ft. LD Sherpa and his clients were also planning to take the same route and asked if I wanted to join them. We headed up from Hilltop at 10:00AM and made our way to the Everest View Hotel – one of the most expense and ritziest places to stay in the Himalayas with a view of Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam that was to die for. We sat outside and drank ginger tea while glancing out at the gorgeous scenery. LD Sherpa and I were as goofy as ever together, joking, laughing and making our signature funny-faced pictures. Later, others noted how goofy we are together and even went as far as saying that we are “twins”. LD tried hard to teach me new Nepali words and really seemed to appreciate the little I knew. Climbing with him again was like a dream-come-true.

LD Sherpa and his clients Spencer and Gayle

I returned to Hilltop Lodge early that day and sat down with the owner, another Lakpa! We chatted about how his journey as a lodge owner started. He built Hilltop Lodge from scratch with helicopters transporting all of the wood. The stone walls were all carved by hand, each block cost $25 and took about 5 hours to chisel. The chairs and smaller wood items were all carried up to Namche on the back of porters. There was so much love poured into not just the making of this lodge, but the upkeep as well. Lakpa’s father, an elderly man likely in his 80s, spent the entire day and night walking slowly back and forth across the front yard constantly mumbling Buddhist prayers for the protection of the lodge and its inhabitants.

Namche was the first crowded town I saw on this trip, mixed with trekkers returning from the Three Passes and Everest base camp and those heading upward to start their trek. Surprisingly, I met only a few climbers (non-trekkers) in the valley. I suppose it was a little early in the season, even for climbing Ama Dablam. I was told the fixed ropes on Ama Dablam won’t even be placed until 1-2 weeks later. The weather up higher in the mountains is still stormy in early season, making it very dangerous to climb. Eventually, LD and I would be one of the first groups of the season to climb Ama Dablam.


Namche Bazaar

10.2

Traveling alone has a lot of benefits. Despite getting lost and having to back track from time to time, there’s nothing like having your own room every night. No snoring to deal with and the bed next to me was a perfect place to spread out all of my gear. Not to mention, I get to travel at my own pace and stop to take pictures and rest whenever I feel like it! I don’t have to deal with grumpy people who criticize my odd ways, or expend all my energy yapping away every day. There’s also less dust kicked up on the trail in front of me and less to worry about catching an illness. Okay, perhaps I sold you on trekking alone. But actually, at times it does feel a little lonely, and grumpy annoying people are a great cure for loneliness.

I randomly discovered a gorgeous park while wandering around Namche. It was a tribute to Tenjing Norgay, the first Sherpa to climb Mt. Everest. He is usually featured with Edmund Hillary, from New Zealand, who made the first summit with him in 1953. However, there was no sign of Hillary’s accomplishment. I suppose this was an attempt to honor the Sherpa tradition rather than taint it with mention of a foreign climber. Granted it was likely Tenjing who did most of the logistical work, since a climber from New Zealand would have had less chance of knowing the terrain and hazards of the Himalayas. It was also nice for a change to see the Sherpas honoring their own tradition since they are usually so busy supporting foreign climbers and making them famous.

10.2

I started the trek from Namche to Tengboche with a video call to my mom. It was so exciting to show her live footage of what the trek looked like and help her feel as if she we there with me. I filmed herds of Yak on the trail and the gorgeous mountains surrounding me as I huffed and puffed up the valley. Buying a SIMS card at the airport this time was a life changer. Although there was no cell service as I went higher, the short moments I could share with family and friends were precious.

It rained on and off all day, keeping the dust from rising but soaking my clothes. For the next few days it continued to rain, which made it difficult to dry my clothing. As soon as the sun came out I hung all my wet clothing from straps on my pack hoping that the sun will dry it before the next rainfall. This worked really well on sunny days, but there was nothing I could do but wear wet clothing on other days.


Steep switchbacks to Tengboche

The trek to Tengboche was fairly easy at first but grueling towards the end as it just kept going up, up, up! But I was in no rush and was still making very good time. I would get to Tenboche by 2:00PM just putting one foot in front of the other and repeat this monotonous task. It was amazing how despite having a heavy load, if I slowed down, breathed deeply, and took regular rests, it really didn’t seem all that difficult to haul.

I stayed at a place called Trekkers Lodge on the outskirts of Tengboche. It was a very basic lodge without shower and a single shared bathroom for all 20+ rooms. The owner was very sweet and a very good cook. I really wanted a shower that evening so I went to the nicer hotel in the center of the village and asked them if I can buy a shower. And soon afterwards, in an outdoor stall, I found myself taking a warm and pleasant shower that was heated by gas!!


Tengboche Monastery

I met a trekker from New York who was originally from Iran. He has a very good sense of humor and joked about how he likes to regularly update his wife on his trek and all she says back to him is “I don’t care, just get home asap. You got work to do!”.

That afternoon I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Pujja ceremony in the Tengboche monastery. We arrived too late last year and missed the opportunity, but this year the timing was perfect. Basically, about 50 trekkers and a few climbers sat on the outer perimeter of the prayer hall while about 30 monks recited Buddhist sutras for 2 hours. The sound of the chanting and symbols, and the smell of incense was very relaxing. It was reassuring that this ceremony was meant bring blessings for trekkers and climbers. The ceremony was otherwise quite comical as the junior monks sitting near us could not stop laughing and cracking jokes. They would point at us, say something in the local Sherpa language, and then laugh hysterically. The senior monks didn’t seem to care as they just went on praying. I kept making funny faces back at the junior monks to fuel the fun they were already having. Some trekkers were so uncomfortable sitting on the floor that they had to switch position every few minutes, others next to me were in deep meditation. It was so ironic how all of this was unfolding at once before my eyes…. Chanting monks, laughing monks, unsettled trekkers, meditating trekkers.


Trekkers Inn: Climbers from India

The rain poured down that evening and I was worried about whether or not I made the right choice of returning to the Himalayas before the end of monsoon season. Every year the monsoon season has a tendency to start and end later and later due to climate change. This also means there will be a lot of new snow on the passes and Ama Dablam. I dreaded the fact that we might have to break trail all the way up the mountain.

 For dinner, all the trekkers at the hotel hovered over a warm cast iron stove filled with burning Yak poop. While standing there with my frozen hands spread over the stove, I befriended a team from Lithuania who gave me some homemade smoked beaver jerky from their country. I was so deprived of protein by that point that even beaver tasted very good.

10.3

Started the day with a short walk back to the Tengboche monastery to get a blessing for my trek and climb. Last year we met a senior monk inside a small prayer room who blessed each member of our team by smacking us on the forehead with a stick, and placing a red nylon neckless around our necks. He then gave us a few mystery pills and said “eat”. This year was a different experience. I was told to go to the monk office. After entering the office, I met a junior monk and asked if I can get blessed. He pointed to a pile of red strings on a desk and some pills and then walked away! I tied the red string around my neck and remembered to eat the pills and then gave a donation. I then quietly made my way out of the office and back to the lodge. I couldn’t hold back my laughter thinking that even Tengboche monks have figured out a way to make life easier by opening a self-service blessing station!

After the blessings and a good night sleep, I was off to Pangboche where I can finally shed off about 30 lbs of gear. From that point I will complete the Three Passes and then Gokyo Ri and Kala Patar before returning to Pangboche to pick up my climbing gear and head to Ama Dablam.


Prayer tablets along trail in Pengboche

The trek was easy and only took a few hours. Luckily the weather held up and I was even able to get a peak of Ama Dablam between the clouds for the first time! It was so impressive that moisture suddenly filled my eyes. Right there in front of me was the mountain I could not stop thinking about for years. For the first time on the trip I could see the summit and imagine myself all the way up there fulfilling my dream.

I decided to stay at Sonoma lodge - the same one I stayed at last year because of the gorgeous views of Everest and Ama Dablam. After settling in, I walked through Pangboche and stopped by a little gem of a bakery that I remembered from last year. The owner, Pasang Cjhiri Sherpa was exceptionally kind and accommodating so I invited him to sit down with me for a chat. He seemed to really appreciate this gesture and the conversation went on for hours! We talked about the beauty and majesty of the Himalayan mountains and his rich climbing history. Pasang was once a guide and an avid climber until his wife convinced him to slow down. He once climbed Ama Dablam in a day and also climbed Everest 10 times! That day I ordered a freshly baked brownie, fried dumplings, and several cups of Masala tea. When it came time to say our goodbyes, he vehemently refused to take my payment. Until then, I have met many kind and humble Sherpas, but never one that refused to take my money!


Pasang Chhiri Sherpa and I in Pangboche

Despite the fact that I was farting every day like crazy, my energy level was surprisingly very high and I no longer experienced any high-altitude related headaches! Farting is not listed as a typical high-altitude symptom but I’d take this issue any day over headaches, insomnia, nausea, etc. I was also surprised about how warm I felt, even at night, when temperatures would sink below freezing. Last year I was completely unprepared for the cold weather since it was so unseasonably warm in Oregon before I left for Nepal. This year I did everything possible to get used to the cold before I left despite the warmer Oregon temperatures. This included taking 3 – 4 ice baths a week. In order to do this, I bought a garage freezer and froze large chunks of ice. I mixed 4 large pieces in a small vinyl ice tub that I bought on Amazon to get temperature down to 60 – 62 degrees and soaked for 6 minutes a time. Considering the fact that I have always preferred to be hot and easily got sick when cold, this was a total leap of faith. Cold was always my weakness and it was the one major thing that stood between me and an Ama Dablam summit. I wasn’t about to let that stop me.


10.4

Today was the day to put my ice baths to the test as freezing rain relentlessly poured down all the way from Pangboche (12,926ft) to Chukkung (15,528ft). This was one of the longest stretches of the trek totaling 7.5 miles and 2980 feet of elevation gain. I stopped off at one of my favorite coffee shops in Dingboche called 4441 – named after its height in meters (14,570 ft). My body felt like an ice cube and my clothing was soaking wet. My pants were actually frozen solid and stuck to the skin on my leg. There was no way I could continue trekking without drying off and warming up. Lucking there was some yak poop burning in the stove so I took off my clothes and draped them over a chair nearby. The stove was so hot that within 30 minutes my clothing was almost completely dry. So onward I went after warming up and drinking the tastiest glass of homemade hot chocolate I ever had.


Dengboche

The rain finally stopped soon after reaching my destination “Kongma La Lodge” at about 3:00PM. The lodge owner did not seem particularly happy to see a drenching mess asking for a room approach her. From that point onward I called her as “Bahini” or younger sister in Nepali, which suddenly changed her demeaner. She then smiled and referred to me as “Dai” or older brother.  The Sherpa community are very family-oriented and really appreciate being addressed as brother and sister. Addressing them with words like “Dai” and “Bahini” immediately turn strangers into family.


Kongma La Lodge

Kongma La Lodge was very impressive with double paned windows and hand carved wood window frames. There was also carpet in the hallway – something rarely seen in lodges this high up in the mountains. Despite almost freezing to death I felt amazing and extremely hungry, which indicated that I was acclimatizing nicely. I met trekkers from Italy, Israel, Australia, and Ireland while drinking a cup of tea in the cafeteria. I also chatted with a few Sherpas in their native language that evening. We immediately bonded as they appreciated my feeble attempt to speak Nepali. I was also grateful to them for talking with me despite my limited vocabulary. These moments of immediate bonding and mutual gratitude with the local people were so precious to me. They illustrated how easy it is to love and feel loved from others who I never met before, nor share any cultural similarities. Despite being so different, in the mountains we are all family. I grabbed every opportunity possible to speak Nepali with the locals, whether on the trail, in a lodge, or on the mountain. Being here was really my only chance to practice my Nepali since there are very few chances to do so in the USA.

10.5

The following morning, I woke up at 2AM with a splitting headache likely due to the freezing rain and altitude gain the day before. Rather than suffer in bed, I got up and ran down through the valley a few miles, hoping to shake it off. Unfortunately, that darn headache and fatigue decided to hang on for the remainder of the day. Most people staying at Kong Ri Lodge stayed there an extra day to acclimatize before attempting the Kongma La Pass (18,192ft) – a 2700ft elevation gain. Considering the fact my head was pounding and I was feeling like shit, this would have been a smart idea. However, I stubbornly pushed onward to the pass hoping by some miracle my headache would get better. From experience, my headaches never improved if I climbed higher, but I didn’t want to lose the headway I was making so far and I’m also not one to sit around and wait.

The Kongma La pass itself was beautiful, equip with its own small lake just below the summit ridge. Despite feeling under the weather I kept a decent pace and still found myself passing others who left the lodge hours before me. To my satisfaction, the last 200ft stretch to the ridge was steep rock scramble – which always perks up my energy. The knife-edge ridge was surrounded by snow-capped peaks and had a gorgeous lake view on one side and a view of the Mt. Everest valley on the other.


Kong Ri La Pass

Although I see my destination, Pyramid Lodge, from the summit ridge, it turned out to be another 4 hours before I arrived there. As I descended back down the other side of Kongma La I noticed a sign that said, “Trail Closed follow red signs”. This is where things got really hairy. The detour seemed like an endless maze of loose boulders. Nothing was stable under foot as the entire mountain seemed to shift beneath me. I ascended and descended, ascended then descended, again and again one steep and dangerous slope after another. I thought to myself that the closed trail, no matter how bad it was, would have likely been 100x better than this one. But then it occurred to me that the old trail was likely completely caved in from all the collapsing loose rock.

Utterly wiped out by my headache, fatigue, and soreness, I collapsed into my bed at Pyramid Lodge.

Unlike other lodges in the valley, Pyramid offers a set price of $50 that included meals, snacks, lodging, and a very nice hot shower. I cannot express how wonderful that shower felt or how much I ate that night. My headache and fatigue almost immediately disappeared after the shower and a good meal. At first I was unaware of the set price and kept refusing the lodge owner when he offered me snacks, tea, etc.  I thought to myself, “Man, this guy wants to make a pretty penny off of me!”

Pyramid was a tiny lodge shaped like a Pyramid, designed and built by a team of Italian researchers who research climate change in the Khumbu valley. Apparently, the upper part of the glass pyramid is the laboratory, whereas the lower part, where I stayed was the lodge. Being a very small, warm and cozy lodge, everyone engaged in conversation that evening. There were groups from around the world who spoke different languages and yet we all thoroughly engaged and enjoyed our time together. I met a father and daughter from Georgia, USA. The father was originally from Bosnia and daughter was born in the USA but fluent in Bosnian. Although both spoke fluent English, his daughter preferred to speak to her father in his native tongue. They were trekking the 3 passes together and also volunteered at several schools in small villages along the way. I admired the loving father/daughter bond they shared together. How many daughters would fly across the world to trek alone with their dad for a month?


Pyramid Lodge

For some reason the owner of the lodge – a very funny, kind, and entertaining man – kept offering me fresh popcorn. He even knocked on my door after dinner and delivered a fresh batch. That evening the lodge owner and I sat down for hours talking about life, family, mountains, and food. He also explained how over the years lakes have been drying up in the Khumbu Valley as a result of climate change. The lodge owner was very knowledgeable about the area and its history.

10.6

Woke up with a slight headache that immediately disappeared after an Advil and a cookie, and then left for my climb up Kala Patar (18,519ft). An adorable furry black dog came up to me while I sat down to eat a few more cookies at 17,000ft. Although its common to see homeless dogs roaming in the streets Katmandu and in small villages in the valley, I didn’t expect to see one this high on the mountain! He quietly sat down next to me and stared intently at my cookies. He gently bit down on each cookie I handed to him and then decided to curl up and sleep right next to me. Despite not having a home to stay or being trained, dogs in Nepal do not bark at or attack people and are almost always friendly. Although it is just my theory, enclosing and fencing dogs here in the USA is one reason why perhaps many of them bark so loud. Dogs in Nepal are not trained to attack others or protect their owners. They are loved and even worshipped but not entrapped or privileged.

Two mates from Australia suddenly decides to climb a large boulder directly behind where dog and I rested. They found the most incredible place to take a picture so I offered to take one for them if they would do so for me in return. In the background you can see Mt. Everest, Lhotse, and Pumori. It was if we were inside of a Bob Ross painting! I met these guys several times along the trail after our first encounter. They were extremely friendly and greeted me each time with a “Hey mate” and pat on the back. It was so nice to see how stoked everyone felt being in the Himalayas. This is probably as close as anyone could get to being in Heaven without actually having to die.

After a short break I continued my journey towards Everest Base Camp.


Australian Guys Rock

Along the way, I passed a small town called Gorak Shep at the base of Kala Patar. As I got closer to Everest and its surrounding giants, everything below seemed to get smaller. The town of Gorak Shep was almost entirely swallowed up but the surrounding mountains. Directly north of town was a ridge that appeared to extend straight upward. Climbing this ridge up to Kala Patar (18,519ft) was my plan for the day. Despite feeling the effects of altitude on my breathing, I otherwise felt energetic and relieved not to have a headache. I purposely took my time and climbed very slowly to acclimate as best as I could. The last section up to the summit of Kala Patar was a narrow rock cliff above a nearly vertical rock scramble. The excitement of another rock climb section actually perked me up, and I suddenly found myself swinging rock to rock like a monkey. There were two climbers who passed me about 100 feet down from the summit going quite fast for being so high up. But after my inner monkey took over, they were suddenly below me struggling to get up the rock section.


Everest behind me

The view of Everest Base Camp directly below Kala Patar was absolutely breathtaking. Pumori (23,494 ft) was just an arm’s stretch away and Lhotse (27,940ft) smirked at us in the distance, saying “I don’t look that difficult to climb from a distance, do I?”. The path up to Everest summit would have looked surprisingly straight forward if it weren’t for the scary looking Khumbu Icefall. I was surprised to see how far this ever-shifting, avalanche prone section extended up the valley towards the South Cwm (upper slope of the South side climbing route).




Looking up towards summit of Kala Patar

After returning back to Pyramid, I was surprised to see all of the people I met the day prior replaced by trekkers who were coughing and sneezing all over the place. There was a woman in the room next to me that was moaning for hours like she was about to die. I did not see anyone enter her room or hear anyone attend to her and was deeply concerned. Nobody seemed to know who was in the room even though I asked the lodge owner and 3 other trekkers. I finally decided to knock on her door and ask if she needed anything, to which her answer was “No, I’m fine”. I’ve never heard anyone moan in agony like that and hope that I never have to again.

10.7

The next morning, I was told that the woman next door to me was doing okay and that she was having breakfast. I saw her sitting down at the breakfast table sneezing and coughing but otherwise looking fairly well. The dining room was a complete cough-fest, so I grabbed a snack and snuck out of the lodge as soon as I could while holding my breath. Today was a pretty chill hike from Pyramid to Dzongle except for the last steep stretch. I made several porter friends along the way at the rest points. We talked in broken Nepali and English about life. They would often want to continue hiking with me but even with a heavy load on their backs, would still be much faster than me. I tried to keep up with one of them before Dzongle and almost collapsed with exhaustion.

I ran into LD Sherpa and his clients at the half-way point but was so fixated on the trail ahead, I almost missed them! “Namaste Gary!” LD Sherpa called out. After a few hugs we moved onward in separate directions, only to unite again later at Ama Dablam Base Camp for the real deal.


View of Ama Dablam from Dzongle

Shortly afterwards I merged onto the exact same trail as last year and directly in front of me was Lobuche (20,075ft). I sat down on a rock, munched on a snack, and glanced up and reflecting on both fond and distressing memories of climbing Lobuche last year.

My stomach started hurting when I arrived at Dzongle likely because all I ate was complete junk that day. So I checking into a room at Dzongle Inn, put on some good tunes, gave myself some acupuncture, shed a few tears, and let out a huge fart. Within a few minutes I felt so much better, full of appreciation and wellbeing despite the smell of the room.


Me about to eat Yak poop.

Dzongle is situated on a bluff at the base of Cholla Pass with a clear view of majestic Ama Dablam in the distance. The weather was overall very pleasant with clouds that framed the mountains around us, accentuating their beauty. After taking a rest I decided to meander around the lodge and ran into a middle-aged couple casually soaking their bare feet in a little pond and reading a novel. The pond was half frozen and extremely dirty, and the air surrounding us was painfully cold but it didn’t seem to faze them. I noticed a few pipes leading from the pond to the lodge and realized that it was likely the only water source. Suddenly the dreadful thought of drinking murky, foot-flavored water that evening entered my mind. That night my Steripen was put to good use.



Everyone in the dining room was smiling and laughing likely due to the nice weather and feeling of accomplishment for making it thus far. I had dinner with a very nice German couple that I met in Namche. They both spoke fluent English and were trekking the 3 passes alone with a Sherpa. Most hikers travelled clockwise along the 3 passes, but I decided to take the counter-clockwise route in order to drop off my gear in Pangboche. Hence, I kept running into trekkers that I met in Namche along my journey.

Outside of my lodge window I saw an entire field of Yak poop, each piece of poop carefully placed proportionately next to the other. They were even placed on top of small shrubs and rocks in order to give them a moment of glory in the sun. There was literally over a thousand of these poops, each handled with extreme care. “Yak poop is worth their weight in gold up here” a Sherpa in Dengboche told me.


Yak poop drying on a rock after being smashed against a wall.

It is astonishing how little the Nepali people living here possess, yet they know exactly how to make us feel comfortable and well provided for. I couldn’t help but feel a little sad when I see a lodge owner eating practically nothing for dinner and still cook pizza, fresh bread, and other luxuries us their guests even without an oven. It is equally impressive to witness just how incredibly capable they are of making things work up here.



10.8

I departed Dzongle at 8:00AM the next morning to climb the Cholla Pass. The path went straight upwards from the lodge, gaining several thousand feet in less than a mile.

Cholla Pass (17,782ft) itself was by far the most beautiful of the three passes. Although it was the lowest of the three, it actually had the most snow. I met several groups along the snow field that were having the time of their lives, laughing and playing in the snow like children. I was surprised to see how many trekkers were from China. Some were very courteous while others treated their Sherpas like servants – yelling commands as if they were royalty.


Glacier on the way to Cholla Pass

The last stretch up to the ridge was snow covered and steep, making it challenging to navigate.  I was truly in my element with an exposed rock scramble leading to a very narrow ridge. Whenever I came across this type of terrain there was always a surge of energy that propelled me forward. At the ridge I met the Australian guys again who greeted me with, “here comes the monkey”.

The energy surge lasted the entire rest of the day as I basically ran down the mountain and didn’t care whether I was on or off trail. In these moments, its hard for even myself to understand what is driving me. The Sherpas a long the trail would periodically call out “Bistare, Bistare!! (go slower)” but I just couldn’t slow down until I got to the next destination, Draknok.

Draknok was a very cute town which was dwarfed by the surrounding mountains. Shortly after entering my room at Mountain Paradise Lodge the door shut behind me and refused to open again. I was locked in my room for about 30 minutes until the owner heard me banging against the door. She climbed in from the window and we struggled to get the door open for another 30 minutes until finally it budged. When the lodge ranch-hand tried to unlock it again, the stupid door opened right away. He looked at me and said, “It’s fine, what are complaining about”??

That evening, Tashi Sherpa, the lodge owner’s husband, played Tibetan music on a traditional stringed instrument called a Tungna. The sound of his instruments combined with the softness of his singing voice had everyone in the room mesmerized. His wife sad by the warm woodstove watching him play with a look of love and admiration.




10.9

The trek to Gokyo involved taking a very long detour through extremely loose rock along a very steep “trail”. Huge boulders gave way under foot as we clumsily made our way across a huge dried up glacier bed. The majestic Himalayan views surrounding us, however, easily made up for the lousy trail.

A porter approached me right before an extremely loose and steep section and asked if he could borrow one of my walking poles. I was happy to lend it to him, thinking it is the least I can do show my appreciation for these hard-working people. After getting to the top of the section, we all took a rest and started goofing around. We were having so much fun and laughing so hard that everyone must have lost track of time, or body pain for that matter! One of the porters came up to me and said “Our meeting makes me so happy!” It was so nice to see smiles and laughter on these otherwise exhausted looking faces.



The majestic town of Gokyo suddenly came into view after ascending the last steep and loose slope. This was by far the most beautiful town of the trek, and also the most visited. A gorgeous turquois colored lake is what sets this town apart from the rest. Directly to the West is Renjo La Pass, to the north is Cho Oyu, and to the East is Cho La Pass. No matter which directly you face, Gokyo offers breathtaking views.



Shortly after arriving at 11:30AM, with enough energy to spare, I decided to climb Gokyo Ri (17,535ft). With another roughly 2000ft elevation gain, Gokyo Ri offered incredible views of Everest, Loste, Ama Dablam, and Cho Oyu. If it weren’t for a really loud and obnoxious climbing team from Spain, I would have been alone up there. While resting on a rock, one of the team members came right up to me, squatted, and took a crap!



To add insult to injury, that evening a couple sleeping in the room next to me was having really loud sex. The walls in this lodge were so thin, that this couple might as well been doing it right there in front of me. Just laying there and not sleeping was a waste of time so I decided to go to the dining room to drink some tea. Right after my order the cooks decided to take a break and come back 45 minutes later to bring me the tea. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I wanted outta there! Early the next morning I packed my bags and head for another lodge in Gokyo for the second night – a decision I would never regret.

By this point on the trek I recognized quite a few people from days passed and it felt really nice to reunite. One of them was a single man from Switzerland who was also solo trekking the three passes. He was a handsome man who seemed to get along well with everyone around him, especially a young woman from Poland. As a matter of fact, it was these two who kept me up all night in the room next door.


10.10

Today’s objective was to climb Renjo La Pass (17,560ft) and then return to Gokyo for a second night’s stay. Before leaving I decided to check into Gokyo Resort, the nicest lodge in Gokyo for $30 a night. Most of the trekkers I spoke with thought this was ridiculously expensive since they were paying an average of $10 a night. But I wanted out of the crappy lodge I stayed at the night before.

Renjo Pass was absolutely gorgeous! There was a short section close to the top of steep rock making for a really fun scramble before reaching the knife-edge ridge. With prayer flags blowing in the wind and the sounds of the Sherpas voices, I immediately felt a sudden rush of happiness and calmness. As with the other ridges, I always made it a priority to climb to the highest point. Usually, this meant I would be climbing above everyone else up a few huge steep rocks. But the solitude and the views made the extra climbs always so worth it.


On top of Renjo La Pass



Looking down from top of Renjo La Pass

Later that afternoon, I decided to trek to Fourth Lake from Gokyo. The Fourth and Fifth Lakes are on the way to Cho Oyu (26,864ft). The clouds that day almost entirely blocked the view of Cho Oyu, except for a few short moments when it could come into view. I sat in front of the lake waiting for these moments only to freeze my ass off in the forceful cold wind and later coming down with a cold. Despite feeling like an ice cube, I was overwhelmed with feelings of joy knowing that I already successfully completed the Three Passes and was on my way back to Ama Dablam!! Now all I had to do was shake off this untimely cold!


View of Ama Dablam from Gokyo

Gokyo Resort was extremely luxurious compared to the others. It has a delightful shower in the room and a dining room that overlooked the town of Gokyo, with a panoramic view of the surrounding lake and mountains. There were numerous freshly baked treats and the food was phenomenal. There was also a little bar of soap in the bathroom. While this might not sound like a big deal, it was actually the first bar of soap I saw for the last few weeks. I could finally hand wash my clothes!!



While chilling out in the uncrowded dining room, sipping Masala tea and enjoying the splendid views I thought to myself, “Wow! Yesterday was the worst lodge experience, but today is by far the best!” The lodge and views were so incredible that just coming to Gokyo and staying here the whole time would be enough to make a fabulous vacation.

10.11.23

Today was absolutely surreal. While hiking from Gokyo to Pangboche there was a tiny sign that said “Shortcut to Pheriche”.  I decided to ask a Sherpa passing by if it was preferable path since Pheriche was along my route and I wanted to get there as fast as I could. He immediately answered “do not take that route!” and then the next Sherpa who passed by said “definitely take that route!” Having wasted time asking this question and filled with curiosity, I decided to give it a try.

It only took a few minutes on this trail to realize that I was suddenly all alone without any lodges or people in sight. The only person I saw on this trail was an elderly woman carrying a heavy load of yak dung in a large basket who seemed to disappear in thin air. The trail itself completely disappeared at times and if I hadn’t downloaded the GPS track on my phone, there would be no way to know where I was! My goal was to hike as far as I could that day and then stay at one of the few lodges I located on my GPS. I arrived at the lodge hours later only to discover that it was abandoned. By that point my clothing was soaked with sweat and the weather was changing rapidly. Cold wind and clouds quickly made their way up the valley and all I could do was walk onward and hope that somehow there will be a lodge before dark.



After trekking a few more hours on the eerily quiet and abandoned trail I was suddenly greeted by a mother and her son yelling “hello, hello” from a rock above. His mom said, “come in for tea” and pointed to the entrance of an old and dirty building. It suddenly struck me that their greeting was a sales pitch and I was a desperate consumer willing to pay pretty much any price for lodging. Little did I know that there was much larger and cozier looking lodge around the corner only 50ft further down the trail! By that point I didn’t care where I slept as long as there was a roof over my head to block the cold wind and rain. There was also an odd feeling inside me that wanted to experience the reality of rustic living in the middle of nowhere.


Abandoned lodge along the way

The lodge was a sight to behold with clay walls dug into the mountainside and rooms that looked like large plywood boxes. There was a huge tree branch sticking out from underneath a wood burning stove in the “kitchen” used for fuel. It was very dark inside and the only dim light available was in the “dining room” – a tiny room with a broken wood burning stove used as a shelf. As soon as mother and son entered the lodge before me they frantically tidied things up. “Chorako nam Ke Ho (What is your son’s name?)” I asked. “His name is Pasang” she answered and then proceeded to hand me a menu that looked like it had better days. The pages were frayed and stained with food and dirt and the letters were smeared. Despite its appearance, there was an impressive six pages of food items similar to that of other lodges. The kitchen was tiny and there was little food to be found, so I was prepared to eat anything that was available. I decided to take my chances and ordered a spring roll, which in the Himalayas is a huge deep-fried bun with vegetables. I also ordered garlic soup to help prevent getting sick. While his mom was cooking my dinner, Pasang would occasionally stick his little head out of a small curtained window separating the kitchen from the dining room. When he did this, I would sneak up to the window, hide, and then jump scare him each time he looked for me.


Sherpa Lodge


The spring roll and garlic soup were surprisingly delicious. It was hard to imagine that food like this can come out of a such a small, dirty, and rustic kitchen. While I was eating, Pasang continued to peak out every few seconds from the curtain window. It took a little time for Pasang to warm up to me but once he did, there was no stopping him.  It was an intense five-hour journey into his tiny Sherpa world. I saw how he tries to jump up and ride the yaks in the pasture only to be knocked off seconds later, plays with a rice bag as one of his few toys, chases after and tries to stomp on mice, and run around climbing huge rocks like they were stepping stones.  That evening we flew paper airplanes and studied the English alphabet with light from my cell phone. I would occasionally lay down for a short nap in order to regather my energy (note to self: never try to keep up with little Sherpas), only to see him peering through the cracks in the wall calling my name. Every now and then we heard a sound coming from outside and Pasang would rush to see what it was, hoping to bring his mom more visitors. We had one other visitor that day who stopped by for a drink. He was a middle-aged Nepali man who was so drunk that he couldn’t even walk or talk straight. But nevertheless, it made Pasang and his mom very happy to see another soul. Pasang’s mom told me that he doesn’t have anyone to socialize with – no friends or family just his mom and the occasional trekker like myself.

The floor of my room was simply a carpet thrown over rocks making everything uneven. Despite being a little worried at first, sleep that evening wasn’t an issue after hours of playing with a little monster. Even though the floor didn’t keep me up, there was another factor that made things uncomfortable. Smoke from the wood stove flowed directly into my room every time Pasang’s mom cooked! My lungs burned all day and night with the lingering smoke. “Oh great!” I thought to myself “Not only do I have a cold but now my lungs are filled with smoke!”


Luxurious bathroom at Sherpa Lodge

Pasang’s mother spoke surprisingly good English despite never having attended school or taken classes. She mentioned how her dream was for Pasang to be the first in her family to attend school. Her family was so poor that not even her parents or siblings ever went to school. It would cost her about $1500 a year including room and board to send Pasang to the closest school in Namche Bazaar. It is a shame that there isn’t a public-school system available for children the Khumbu Valley and most cannot afford to educate their children. Instead Sherpa kids often end up helping and assuming their parents’ roles when they get older. Pasang’s mom said that in order to be a guide, even Sherpas need to attend grade school for a minimum of 11 years.

Despite a desire for peace and quiet, I was grateful to Pasang for inviting me into his world. His cute dark red cheeks, bubbly energy, and goofy behavior quickly stole my heart. I offered my contact number but there would be no way to keep in touch since there was no cell service there. I felt terribly sorry for Pasang not having anyone but two Yaks and his mom to play with. But there was no doubt that his mother loved and embraced him wholeheartedly. He made her laugh with his goofiness and she made him confident and proud to be the little man of the house.



10.12

It was harder than I imagined to say goodbye the next day as I reluctantly departed from Pasang and his mom’s place and headed off into the unknown. I felt a little sinus infection brewing likely because the last few days were freezing and the smoke last night didn’t help much either. With nose running, sore throat, and practically zero energy, I descended 5070ft and climbed another 3692 ft until reaching Pangboche. The constant ascents and descents played with my mind. I envied the occasional helicopter that flew by with clients who were casually starring out at the view from their comfortable seats. Despite moments of despair, the heavenly view of the valley below and the peaks above easily made up for how I felt.

On the way, I passed by a town named Phortse, which had its own cell tower! I was told that this was a town of “upper-class” Sherpa who send their children to study abroad. With the sun warming my cold limbs and a rare opportunity to catch up on emails and send messages of love to my family, it was blissful moment.



When I arrived back to Pangboche I did not recognize anything even though I’ve been there 4 times before! My GPS lead me to nothing but cow pastures and narrow rock alleyways. Why couldn’t I recognize this place? Was the altitude finally getting to me? Eventually I realized that Pengboche was freaking huge and I was entering from the opposite side. It took hours of hopping rock fences and crossing pastures to get myself back on track.


Trail back to Pangboche

I literally collapsed into my bed at Sonam Lodge and woke up several hours later for dinner.

10.13

Today was supposed to be the day I ascended another 3000ft to Ama Dablam base camp in order to begin my climb. Waking with fever and body aches I knew there was no going anywhere but back to sleep. Took a few advil for fever and aches and drank a ton of garlic soup and then laid down in on the front lawn of the lodge in the sun. Directly in front of me was Mt Everest and to the right was Ama Dablam. It was really hard to feel like shit when surrounded by these beauties. It was a gorgeous day without a single cloud. Despite feeling sick, the energy of nature around me lifted my spirits and gave me hope that I was going to get better and be able to climb Ama Dablam.


Ama Dablam view from Pangboche

Summit of Ama Dablam

10.14

After several more bowls of ginger soup and ginger tea and tons of sleep, I felt good enough to climb up to Ama Dablam base camp. I still felt energy deficient and the 3000ft climb with 60lbs of gear was utterly exhausting. But other than a lack of energy, my cold symptoms and fever were practically gone. This was nothing short of a miracle since I’m usually down for at least 3 days with a cold at sea level. Last year with similar symptoms, the altitude made me feel so bad that I had to turn around and give up my summit bid. I wanted this climb so bad that my immune system must have fought like gangbusters.

It was such a pleasure to meet up with Lakpa and Ngima Sherpa – owners of Ama Dablam Base Camp. Lakpa gave me a big hug as soon as we reunited and Ngima greeted me with pepper tea and a huge smile on her face. These are the most hospital hosts I’ve ever met who are always ready to offer drinks and food any time of the day. That night, with several more bowls of garlic soup and 2 Kursani (tiny little green peppers that can burn a hole in your tongue) I was feeling even better.



At the lodge I met Daren, and Environmental Sciences professor from Lake Tahoe, who was also planning to climb Ama Dablam. He was, like most other people I’ve met so far, also battling a cold and waiting for it to fizz off before climbing. There was also a Japanese climber at the lodge who just summited Ama Dablam. We spoke for hours in Japanese about his climb and our mutual love for the mountains. My Japanese was a little rusty at first not having spoken it for year but then started to pick up as the conversation continued. His Sherpa, an accomplished 8000m peak climber, also spoke fluent Japanese. There were also climbers from Czechia, Japan, and Russia all in the same lodge with Sherpas that spoke each language fluently.

As a tradition for those who summitted Ama Dablam, the Japanese climber was presented a huge homemade cake with his name and a big “Congratulations on summiting Ama Dablam” written on it. I recalled how much I wanted to celebrate summiting Ama Dablam last year and envied those who received their cake.  This year I’m going to get that cake!

That evening I slept well and started to feel even better after 2 liters of black pepper tea and several bowls of garlic soup. I also drank a few cups of airborne.

10.15

I was invited into the kitchen the next morning to hang with the Sherpas. This was always my favorite place to go in the lodge because it is a direct ticket into the life of Sherpa culture and food! Today they served us rice wine and a huge fried potato that filled the entire plate. One of the cooks kept giving me more and being so hungry, I chowed them down. Another Sherpas who was sitting next to me offered to put some kind of Yak sauce on my potato pancake which made it taste absolutely disgusting, but hungry as I was, woofed it down anyway.  We then drank several cups of homemade rice wine, which easily helped me forget about the taste of Yak sauce.

I was surprised to see how quickly Ama Dablam Base Camp started filling up with Sherpas and Climbers. It was even busier than last year despite still being very early in the climbing season. There was a Pujja ceremony that morning and lodge owner, Lakpa invited me to join a group of Polish climbers attending it. I was extremely thankful considering I didn’t sign up for a Pujja ceremony this year but wished to participate in one. During the ceremony there’s a part where we all take a handful of rice and throw it towards the mountain as an offering. One of the participants thought it was funny to throw her rice directly at me. Since we had another chance to throw rice later in the ceremony, I chucked it right back at her and we all chuckled like naughty kids during church mass.



After the ceremony I met a Korean trekking team at the lodge and was particularly impressed by a member who spoke Korean like a native but looked exactly like a Sherpa. Everything from the tone of his skin, haircut, and choice of clothing spelled Sherpa. He told me that he was actually Korean but prepared for months before the trek to look like a Sherpa. Not sure what exactly motivated him to do this but I guess he may have thought, “when I Rome do as the Romans do”. At first, I thought he was joking but I waited awkwardly in vain for a smirk or giggle of some sort while he told me this.

Later, I headed up to outdoor base camp and passed by the fixed rope training area along the way. This is where Sherpas teach climbers how to ascend ropes with a device called a Jumar – a tool that slides along the fixed rope as we ascend but locks immediately if pulled in the opposite direction to prevent falling. I saw a Japanese woman who was being trained by two Sherpas that were having a lot of difficulty trying to get her to take even one step. They tried and tried to assist her and finally just lifted her up. For the life of her, she could not figure out how to ascend fixed lines. I couldn’t help but shutter at the fact that she will soon be climbing extremely exposed rock and ice. I saw her later at camp 2 (20,000ft) and thought it wasn’t anything short of a miracle that she got up there.


Ama Dablam Outdoor Base camp is usually packed with people but it's still early in the season.

After discussing my acclimatization plan with several Sherpa at base camp, they all suggested that I still need to acclimatize further on Ama Dablam before my summit attempt. They thought that my 18,000 ft max ascent so far wasn’t enough to go straight for the summit and that I should descend from Camp 2 at 20,000ft back to base camp and then go straight up to the summit. I honestly did not want to climb all the way up there just to return to base camp and do it again. This is precisely why I chose to climb 3 passes. Their suggestions, however, did make sense since I have yet to be above 18,000ft and a 4700ft elevation gain at this altitude could easily lead to Acute Mountain Sickness.

LD Sherpa arrived later that day after hours of his anticipated arrival. Seeing him at base camp gave me the sudden realization that I was actually about to climb Ama Dablam. Until then, it seemed like I was in a dream in which I travelled to the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Summiting Ama Dablam was still a priority but climbing the three passes felt like a trip within itself. LD Sherpa seemed to be the only one I spoke to at the lodge who thought I didn’t have to acclimate further before attempting to summit. We agreed to see how things go and decide at camp 2 if I was summit material. LD Sherpa always had so much confidence in my ability, which in turn gave me an increased sense of competence.

It snowed that afternoon and weather up higher in the mountain was hit or miss for the next few days. LD Sherpa somehow calculated the perfect strategy of climbing in between storms and sleeping out bad weather at camp 1 and 2. Also, as a religious man, he also took into account which days were auspicious for our summit attempt. “Let’s depart Tuesday and summit either Thursday or Friday, both are good luck days and weather looks good”.

I’ve never seen fresh snow at base camp and although it meant deeper and more challenging snow up above, everything around us looked so pristine and calm. All year long I could not stop thinking about the view from Ama Dablam Lodge, I have yet to see anything more stunningly picturesque. The steep ridges jutting out from a majestic mountain peak truly resembles a mother with her arms wide open embracing her child.

10.16

The constant back and forth to Lukla with a heavy backpack must have taken a toll on LD Sherpa because he basically slept for two days straight after arriving at base camp. Since I was feeling so much better and had a lot of stored up energy, I decided to go for a hike towards camp 1 despite being advised against it. I’ve seen climbers in the past make their way up to the summit without a Sherpa but knew that, at least technically, it was against park rules. But for me, this was another opportunity to acclimatize (Camp 1 is at 18,700ft) and experience at least part of the mountain on my own.

After burning my insides up with more fresh Kursani and garlic soup early that morning, I packed my bags and headed out. Almost immediately I took the wrong trail and found myself having to climb a very steep section to get back up to the main trail on the ridge. Once there, I could see the trail and decided to follow it up at far as I could. There’s always a moment in places like this where I simply break down in tears of gratitude. This is precisely what happened while resting on a rock with views of the entire Everest range. I decided to follow a not-so-treaded trail, thinking it would be preferable to take an alternate route towards camp 1. It was a truly intimate feeling with no one else on the trail, just Ama Dablam and me. My choice would soon come back to haunt me as I realized the two trails did not connect and I would have to climb a another very steep slope with loose rock to get back on route. The scree was so loose that I had to trace mountain goat hoof prints for at least a little bit of traction. I decided to turn around after making it up the ridge and climbing 2300ft. Still had enough energy to go further but all of that route finding took much more time than expected and I wanted to get back before sundown. Man! It is so easy to get lost in the Himalayas. No wonder why climbing without a Sherpa is so frowned upon up here. The mountains are so huge that even though they help point you in the right direction, it is still easy to get lost in between ridges.



Back at the lodge LD Sherpa and I exchanged pictures of our respective treks. I treasure every moment spent with him and cannot stop smiling at everything he said. Others in the lodge took notice of our bond and commented that we looked so happy together. It’s ironic how active he is on social media and yet lives a humble and quiet lifestyle in the mountains. Every morning throughout the year I am greeted with another facebook post about his life as a farmer in the winter and climber in the spring.

Since there was no water at camp 1, LD Sherpa decided to hire his uncle (the other Lakpa) to bring us water from base camp. This is the same Lakpa that I saw absolutely everywhere since Namche, cooking, digging, porter, guiding, and now bringing us water?!? LD Sherpa’s uncle never stops for even a moment and getting his attention is never easy. That evening I asked him how he was feeling. He responded was, “oh, well… my calves are just a little sore. But other than that, I’m feeling great!” I tried to lend him to a portable TENS unit that I brought with me to help with sore muscles. I asked him if he would like to borrow the machine that evening. Well, after hooking the machine up and running a very light current through his calve muscles, he looked at me with fear in his eyes and said. “It is too scary!” and ran away.

That evening I went through all my gear a dozen times and hit the sheets early for our climb the following day. I was excited and energized, and felt deep inside that the climb would be a success. It was difficult to sleep since I was so excited and had too much caffeine in my blood from drinking so much black pepper tea. The fact that I overcame my cold before Ama Dablam gave me a huge sense of relief and confidence.

10.17

I jumped out of bed the next morning ready for battle. LD came to my room to make sure I packed everything needed. He noticed my pack looked heavy and offered several times to take some of my items. I continuously refused thinking that it was important for me to carry my own shit and rely on LD Sherpa only for guidance. He looked well-rested and back to his original bubbly self again.

After eating breakfast that morning, LD Sherpa invited me to attend another Pujja ceremony. Despite regretting the fact that I didn’t sign up for a Pujja, here I was at my second one before climbing. Trained 8 years as a Buddhist monk himself, LD Sherpa memorized the entire 1 hour of prayers and listening to him and the Lama pray in stereo was surreal and heavenly.


Second Pujja Ceremony

Shortly afterwards as the sun rose and warmed everyone up, LD Sherpa and I packed a few last-minute items into our bags and met in front of the lodge. Lakpa, the lodge owner, kindly greeted us with Kata (silk scarfs) as a blessing for our safe journey and then off we went! LD Sherpa and I were in great spirits as we sang and danced our way up the trail. This time was completely unrushed compared to last year. We stopped to take pictures, eat and drink or just to talk a little. Our pace was steady and despite taking our time, still made great progress. The goal was to climb 3684ft from Ama Dablam Base Camp (15,016ft) to Camp 1 (18,700ft). Climbing with LD Sherpa felt like I was on automatic pilot as I simply basked in the joy of being with him and having simple but fulfilling conversations. We also took turns playing music. I really enjoyed his taste in Nepali music and he seemed to enjoy listening to the dance and techno music I played.



I reunited with the Korean climbing team I met in Pangboche on the way up to Camp 1. They were doing rounds between camps on the mountain to acclimatize. Even though they seemed eager and excited to clmb Ama Dablam while in Pangboche, here they seemed to have a lot of doubt, second guessing their ability to climb. A few members of their team already decided not to give Ama Dablam a go, while others looked extremely fatigued and affected by the altitude.

The last stretch to Camp 1 was a fun steep rock scramble where the fixed ropes began. There were short sections of vertical climbing but with incredibly nice hand and foot holds. We elected to use the fixed rope only when protection was needed. Otherwise we simply left it alone. Filled with the excitement of being on the mountain and the accumulated rest over the last few days, I felt on top of my game and quickly made my way up the steep sections. The altitude definitely weighed down on me as everything took twice to three times the effort it would on Mt. Hood or other local mountain back home.

Camp 1 was completely socked in. The views we had last year from here were perhaps the best of the entire trip. At least I had the chance to see it last year. I was so stoked to simply be on the mountain that it didn’t seem to matter that much. LD Sherpa pointed to an empty tent perched upon a huge boulder and told me “here’s your tent”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I’ve never had a tent all to myself during an expedition. I quickly unpacked all of my gear, changed into dry clothing and spread by body out over uneven rocks piercing my back. This didn’t bother me one bit since having your own tent was a luxury up here. Well…. My excitement may have lasted about 2 minutes until another team of 2 climbers arrived and asked for my tent. Apparently, all of the other tents were occupied and I had no choice but to pack up all of my stuff and move into LD Sherpa’s tent.



Engulfed in clouds and snow, that night was bone chillingly cold and moving into LD Sherpa’s tent was actually a blessing in disguise. We kept each other fairly warm with body heat and warm water. Dancing and singing for hours that night to pop music also helped us out!



That evening I felt a little nervous because Camp 1 was where I started to feel like absolute shit last year. I woke up with a huge headache, feverish feeling, and very little energy and my condition quickly deteriorated as I climbed. But this year was different, I woke up feeling great and even decided not to take advil to prevent headaches – something I commonly do on expeditions at this altitude. Diamox and other drugs for altitude were out of the question since last year I took ½ of a pill and it made my whole body numb.



10.18

Our goal for the day was to go from Camp 1 to Camp 2 (20,000ft). I remembered this as being the most enjoyable part of the climb despite feeling like crap last year. Shortly after camp 1 is where Ama Dablam gets steeper and steeper. There are several long sections of completely exposed 90 degree rock over thousands of feet of vertical nothingness. LD Sherpa kindly cooked us breakfast and tea before we slowly headed off. We took our time since wind was surprisingly calm and visibility was stellar.

LD Sherpa leaped up the first tower which was 200ft of fully exposed rock climbing. I decided to take my time and focused on hand and foot holds instead of just using the Jumar to hoist myself up. The granite rock was perfect for climbing, providing ample hand and foot holds all the way up. But with 33 lbs on my back and high elevation, the climbing was far from easy.





We climbed several towers of vertical exposed rock. The most popular section among climbers is the Yellow Tower. This section boasts a 3000+ ft drop below and stellar 500 feet of rock climbing fun.  Last year, this is where my cough started to get worse and I was coughing up blood. Luckily, this year there was no coughing but I started to get very tired and had trouble catching my breath. I climbed most of the Yellow Tower placing my hands and feet on the rock and then pulled up the jumar behind me. It was only the last 10 feet that I had trouble finding a good hand and foot hold and decided to use the Jumar in front of me for the remaining section.

The whole climb was like walking on eggshells as we carefully calculated every step knowing that one wrong move could be costly. The fixed ropes definitely provided an added sense of security but they could not be completely relied upon. Occasionally they would be frozen or frayed. Sometimes the anchor points looked a bit sketchy with four or more rope tied into a big blob of something poking out of the mountain. Added security was important but we had to be capable of trusting our own hands and feet more than anything else.



Camp 2 seemed farther away than I remember with endless pitches and extreme exposure along the way. Between vertical rock walls were knife-edge rock ridges that were occasionally covered with solid ice. Crampons would have made these slippery sections much easier to traverse but there wasn’t a single flattened section to put them on. Pretty much all of Ama Dablam after camp 1 is vertical without a second of reprieve.

Thankfully, the weather was sunny with very little wind and other than the constant fear of falling, it was actually a very pleasant day!

We arrived at camp 2 at 2:30 PM and just like last year, the stench and trash all over the place was the first thing I noticed. Last year Summitclimb and other guides made a collective effort to clean Camp 2. I thought that somehow Camp 2 would be cleaner since we were one of the first ones up there this year. It may have looked like a pigsty, but l as the saying goes “One person’s trash is another’s treasure”, sometimes you can find some really nice stuff up there! When LD Sherpa and I arrived at our Camp 2 tent both of us were very tired and despite being voraciously hungry, just wanted to lay down and rest. To my surprise there was an open jar of BBQ flavored pringles potato chips just sitting there waiting to be eaten! I tested a piece to see if it was still crunchy and before we knew it LD Sherpa and I were munching away on old pringle chips! We offered some to a Sherpa friend who came to visit our tent and he chowed down on them too! Not sure how old they were or what they’ve been through, but it that moment they NEEDED to be eaten.


The beautiful but smelly Camp 2

There is absolutely no place to take a shit at camp 2 without others standing right next to you. Tents are stacked one upon another at this camp and tied to boulders to avoid sliding straight down the mountain. Whoever originally decided to make this a camp must have been hallucinating since it is nothing but a knife-edged ridge with sharp rocks that jut out of from the mountain. The tents themselves have seen better days, with torn fabric, zippers that don’t work, and filled with trash.

After our Korean ramen dinner it was time for a 4 hour nap before making the final summit attempt. LD Sherpa decided to put on his summit suit to avoid having to do so later. His suit was a huge down onesie that made him twice his original size. I still cannot motivate myself to buy one of those suits although it is highly recommended for summit climbing in the Himalayas. Once it is put on, there’s no way to layer down on the mountain and overheating can be an issue. I tend to get really hot when I climb even if the temperature is below zero outside. This is such a strange phenomenon since I’m usually extremely sensitive to the cold. I decided to follow suit and wear my summit pants and jacket to sleep only to sweat like crazy inside my minus 40 degree rated sleeping bag.

We managed to stay in the same tent as last year at Camp 2. Yay! The one where there was a three-foot-high boulder sticking straight out of the middle of the tent. LD and I basically piled on top of one another and with all of that puffy duck down surrounding us, I didn’t even know where he was. Anyone who can sleep at Camp 2 should get the Sleep of the Year award. I just laid there for hours, waiting for the chance to get out of that crammed tent and finish the work I’ve trained 2 years for.

The altitude started weighing heavy on my energy and breathing but luckily, I wasn’t sick like last year when at camp 2 I decided not to join Kierson and Dave on their summit push. Actually, I had a very good feeling being with LD Sherpa that I was going to make it to the top this time.

Summit Push

We “woke” up at 8:00PM, ate a few snacks and quickly prepared for our climb. Of course, “quick” in the Himalayas is different than quick anywhere else. It takes forever just to put on boots, crampons or take off enough layers to piss. LD Sherpa decided not to boil water since we had enough in our bottles from the previous day to last us. We purposely decided to start our climb earlier than the others since we didn’t want to be underneath another climbing party kicking down loose rock or ice. As always, the electricity was in the air we were both smiling and in excellent spirits.

With crampons on, we awkwardly set off on our journey to the summit, scraping against uneven rock in the darkness. We had another 3000ft of vertical climbing in order to get to the top. It was so cold that night that the fixed ropes were caked with ice and sometimes completely buried in the ice below. I’ve heard some people say that the section between Camp 1 and 2 was the crux of the climb. The rock climbing between these camps was steep and exposed but topped out eventually. Camp 2 to the summit was constant relentless vertical climbing with absolutely no reprieve. We climbed and climbed into pitch blackness and Camp 2 still didn’t seem to get farther away from us.

Mushroom Ridge was spectacular! It was like rock/ice climbing on steroids! Cracks, rock slab, ice walls, you name it! Once in a while I’d look up to see if I could see the summit. Other than my own mind playing tricks on me, there was no way to see beyond the 20 feet of my headlamp. Up, up, up we went on what seemed to be an endless ascent. Little did I know that my water was completely frozen by that time, but it didn’t matter since there was no place to stop and get it out if my pack anyway.

Hindsight: From this point onwards there was very little opportunity to take the phone out of my jacket to take pictures. Later I regretted not taking a helmet mounted camera or something of that sort since this was indeed the most incredible part of the climb.

The mountain seemed to be getting narrower as we climbed, giving the false impression that we were somehow closer to the summit – only to find that it was just another knife-edge ridge we were climbing towards. At one point we crossed a narrow catwalk that was about 5 inches thick with a drop of 3000+ feet on both sides. I only later realized how scary a section this was when I watched someone else climb it during the day on a Youtube video.

As we slowly inched our way forward, I kept thinking that I was one step closer to the summit, making much better progress than last year. “I am actually doing this! I’m going to make it this time” I thought to myself. I occasionally looked up at the sky and saw millions of tinkling stars peacefully smiling back at us. Other than being brutally cold, the weather was perfect.

After thousands of feet vertical climbing we finally made it to Camp 3, which is just below a huge serac and in an severely avalanche prone area. Most guides skip this area and make their summit push from Camp 2 due to the hazardous terrain. The effect of altitude and pace of our climb made Camp 2 seem much farther than what I imagined. When we arrived at Camp 3, there was a single tent with an ice axe pitched outside. Apparently, we were making enough noise laughing and playing music on our cell phones that we woke up the person inside. He let out a huge yawn and asked us how the weather was outside. We told him it was okay but it was so dark out we couldn’t see anything beyond our headlamps. He responded with “Oh, okay thanks. I’m going back to sleep”. The whole encounter seemed way to casual for being at camp 3, one of the most dangerous mountains in the Himalayas. We then chowed down a few snacks, skipped the frozen water, and was on our way.


View from Camp 3 (On the way down)

Immediately following camp 3 was another long and steep snow-covered section. It was soon apparent that we were the only ones above Camp 3 that day since there were no footprints. We were basically breaking trail all the way up to the top! Some parts were pure ice whereas other places were filled in with deep snow. Other than feeling completed wiped out and moving at a snail’s pace, nothing could keep up from getting to the summit. I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to make it.

We started to see the Eastern sky turn a gorgeous hue of purple by the time we reached the first ridge above Camp 3. By that time every step was exhausting. LD Sherpa would take 3 steps, stop, and then place his head down in the snow and look back at me. I would then look up, see him smile back at me with his head between his legs and then walk another three steps. We stuck to this patter all the way up the mountain.

As the sun slowly made its way above the horizon, we could see a little slither of light above us. LD Sherpa pointed to it and said, “that’s the summit!!”. It looked so close but in actuality we still had to climb another 1000ft of vertical ice and snow to get there. It’s weird how my mind adapts to situations like this that are beyond comprehension. It felt as if I was experiencing everything from a third person point of view. I knew it was my own arm that was operating the jumar and my own feet that were kicking into the ice, but it was as if I was observing everything from outside of my body. The only other time I felt like this was when climbing Ama Dablam last year. Rather than being an alarming or odd feeling, it was actually quite pleasant and satisfying.

The last 1000 feet to the summit seemed to take forever. No matter how much we tried it seemed to get farther and farther away. I kept wondering what the upper mountain would have been like if I took the advice of other Sherpas and headed down from Camp 2 for extra acclimatization. True, I’ve never been up this high and I wasn’t experiencing any altitude symptoms, but I was utterly exhausted and moving slower than a snail. Also, I never climbed a mountain with such sustainable steepness. Ama Dablam is a beast that never lets up!

With every last ounce of energy in our bodies, nine hours later we staggered to the summit of Ama Dablam after what seemed like several days from Camp 2. It was an unbelievably incredible feeling. The view was out of this world! We were standing on the hood of the Himalayas with Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Nupse, Cho Oyu, Island Peak and Cholatse within arm’s reach. As the first to ones to summit that day, we had the summit all to ourselves. If it weren’t for 50+ mile per hour winds, we would have stayed there longer. LD Sherpa tried to retrieve a flag from his jacket and it flew away into oblivion the second it came out of his pocket. The winds were so strong that we didn’t even see it fly away!





There was no way to communicate with LD Sherpa on the summit since the wind drowned our voices. But as kindred spirits we simply hugged each other tight and smiled. I took out my cellphone and played “Resham Firiri” – a Nepali Folk song that is usually sung in the mountains. Despite freezing our butts off and being blown around by the wind, we actually managed to dance for a few second to the song (we couldn’t hear) and take a short video of the summit. It was the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen but Ama Dablam was shouting at us “Okay you got to the summit, now get the hell off!” So, less than 5 minutes after summiting, we turned around and headed back down. The wind died down as soon as we descended from the ridgeline. Below us was an army of people slowly working their way up the mountain.

We came across a Czech climber a short distance above Camp 3 who was really struggling. He was panting loudly and his head was buried into the snow. His Sherpa was standing there just waiting for him patiently. “Do you need any help?” we asked. The climber said, “I’m fine, don’t worry” and so we continued on. I doubted he can make it to the summit since there was still over 1600ft to go and it would have taken him too long to get to the summit. A late summit on 6000m mountains can be fatal due to rock fall, avalanches, weather, and falling from pure exhaustion.

To descend we simply connected a device called a Figure 8 to the fixed ropes and leaned back slowly releasing the rope and rappelling down. This was so much easier than ascending and took much less time to cover distance. It was shocking to see how in just a few minutes I descended areas that took hours to ascend. Ama Dablam also looked so different in the daytime. I could finally see all of the hazards around me and the steep and narrow ridges with steep sides that descended into nothingness. I’m kind of glad these features were invisible to us when we climbed up in the dark.

Upon returning to camp 3 I realized that I haven’t drank water the entire time! I pulled out my water bottle from the backpack only to notice that it was still frozen solid. As I descended further the dehydration was starting to take its toll and my ability continue was diminishing quickly. I started to feel light headed and extremely weak despite the relatively easy descent. Curses started flying out of my mouth and LD Sherpa knew that I was losing my mind. He offered me a few sips of melted water from a small bottle stashed inside his summit suite and I immediately perked up again.

As soon as we arrived back at Camp 2, LD’s friend offered us a bottle of cool coca cola. I’ve never tasted anything so delicious and the sugar was literally resuscitating the life back into my veins. We then opened up our tent and collapsed inside without hesitation. While we were half asleep, I heard a familiar voice and looked out of the tent to see Lakpa’s uncle arrive at Camp 2. He was carried a heavy load for a client and casually chatting away with other Sherpas. He handed us some baked bread from Base Camp and joked about how climbing Ama Dablam was his daily work commute.

LD Sherpa asked me if I’d like to go straight back to Ama Dablam Base Camp that day. That would mean we would descend a total of 7000 ft in one day! We were both very anxious to get back to the comfort of the lodge and eat fresh food and so I responded “Let’s go for it!”. After an hour of rest, we headed down to Ama Dablam Base camp. It was already dark by the time we reached Camp 1 but that didn’t stop LD Sherpa from taking a “short-cut” off trail back to base camp. It took longer than expected because we had difficulty finding our way back to the trail in the dark. Through a lot of trial and error we finally found our way back to the trail and continued to the lodge. I could tell that LD Sherpa was going at a steady pace and I was slowing him down. We were both carrying heavy loads with all of our sleeping and climbing gear and I was beyond tired. It was about 10:00PM when we reached about 16000ft and I encouraged LD Sherpa to not to wait for me and keep going at his own pace. I assured him that I knew the way back to the lodge and although he was a bit hesitant, LD eventually took off and practically ran back to the lodge.

As I slowly made my way onward it occurred to me that I’ve actually never been on this trail and had no idea where it led to. The GPS on my phone couldn’t get a signal and all I could do was follow LD Sherpa’s headlamp. The only problem was that he was by that point thousands of feet ahead and I wasn’t even sure if it was his headlamp I was following or someone else’s! After about 30 minutes of following the light of his headlamp, LD Sherpa vanished as he descended the other side of a ridge. At 11:00PM that evening I was lost in the Himalayas without a single person in sight. All I could do was follow the trail I was on and hope that it would eventually lead me to the lodge.

As I hiked onward, there were no lights in the distance or anything that would indicate I was heading in the right direction. For some reason I found myself ascending the mountain when I should have actually been descending it. To make matters worse, a dense fog rolled in and I could barely even see as far as my own feet. “This is bad, really bad” I thought to myself. I kept moving onward with hope that the fog would clear and I’d recognize the trail. But unfortunately, the fog just kept getting thicker.

 It was 12AM and I should have arrived at the lodge but instead I was lost in the Himalayas without a clue of where I was. As I walked further along the trail a feeling inside kept telling me not to worry and that I was heading in the right direction. Once in a while I thought I saw something familiar but couldn’t tell for sure. At around 2:00AM I passed a section where I vaguely remembered, but it required having to descend a steep section to get back to the lodge. The fog was so dense and the descent was so steep that I chose plan B – head towards outdoor base camp. Last year I remember taking a trail from outdoor base camp to Camp 1 that I believed was straight ahead.

Plan B led me to the end of the trail and all I could see was whiteness rather than tents. It was now 3:00AM and I decided to turn around and work my way back up the trail, but unfortunately the fog was so thick and there were so many rocks that I could not find the trail back. Finally, with a lot of trial and error I was able to trace my steps back up the trail towards the spot I chose to take Plan B. I then reverted to Plan A and descended into the dark abyss. Shortly afterwards, there was a faint reflection in the distance which resembled the side of a tent. I walked toward it and then found myself surrounded by dozens of tents! Phew! I still wasn’t 100% of where I was but it seemed to be a campground that I passed on the way up. I decided to trust my not-so-great memory and follow the fall line until I hit the trail back to the lodge. Lo and behold there was a trail but nothing looked completely familiar since I never climb it in the dark. Despite having some doubt, I took the trail another ½ mile and saw a lodge in the distance. As I got closer it was apparent that I was indeed returning to Ama Dablam Base Camp Lodge.

I arrive at 4:30AM and as expected, everyone was fast asleep. Lakpa kindly left the door open for me and I collapsed onto my bed, laughing about how crazy the day was. It started at 9:00AM the previous day from Camp 2 and now it is 4:30AM without any water and only a few snacks the entire time and I felt beyond tired. I wrote a letter to LD Sherpa telling him that I arrived safely and taped it to the entrance of the lodge. The next morning, he came bursting into my room, “Oh gosh! I was so worried! I am so sorry!” he said. It was my fault for giving him the false assurance that I knew my way around the Himalayas in the dark. We hugged, laughed, and then ordered a huge breakfast. Lakpa was also relieved to see me and told a story about how a climber got lost on the way back to Base Camp last year and 50 Sherpa went out to look for him the next day. Wow! How embarrassing that would have been!

LD Sherpa and I slept most of the day and that evening we partied like there’s no tomorrow. We drank a bottle of Kukura local whiskey and LD Sherpa bought another. We shared it with everyone in the lodge and then asked everyone to get up and dance. Lakpa has a Bluetooth speaker and connected it to my phone. We blasted all kinds of funky music including the Nepali folk-song “Resham Firiri”. One of the other climbers in the lodge was hesitant to dance saying “I didn’t successfully climb yet!” I grabbed his hand and told him it didn’t matter. Shortly afterward, I finally got my cake! Tears filled my eyes as I read the inscription “Congratulations LD Sherpa and Gary!”. I honestly can’t describe how happy and grateful I felt at that moment.

Suddenly out of the corner of my eyes walks in the elder Czech climber that I saw as we descended from the summit. He looked exhausted but had a huge smile on his face. “Did you summit??” I asked. He looked at me and smiled again. I gave him a huge hug, grabbed his hand and we danced together. That evening, we all forgot how tired and nutritionally depleted we were. The energy of the room was bouncing off the walls and there wasn’t a single person in the lodge that night who wasn’t feeling it.




True bliss


Got my darn cake!

While we sat there munching away on cake and chugging down whiskey, LD Sherpa pointed to a man sitting in front of the Yak poop stove. “That’s another uncle of mine. He climbed Everest 27 times. More times than anyone else.” He said. “That man over there??” I said in disbelief. Pasang Dawa Sherpa, who is 46 years old, did not fit the description of a weathered mountaineer. He has a very gentle smile and humble appearance. If he were a Western climber, there would have been articles and tabloid written about him everywhere. I imagined he would have been the center of attention at Base Camp too! But instead, he blended in with his Sherpa friends quietly warming his hands next to the stove. I went up to him and introduced myself and he greeted me with a genuine and modest smile, true to the Sherpa tradition.


Pasang Dawa Sheripa and I

The next day with joy and appreciation filling my heart I said one last goodbye to Ama Dablam and off we went like rabbits skipping our way back to Namche. LD Sherpa arranged for a porter to take half of our gear back to Lukla, making the trip back much quicker and less of a hassle. A trek that usually takes 3+ days took us only 2, as we soared past all of the small villages along the way. We stayed in Namche the first night and then Lukla on the second night.



Pasang Sherpa with Peak Promotions was able to arrange our flight from Lukla to Bupsa and then from Bupsa to Kathmandu. Total flight time was about 1.5 hours. This saved us from a 6-hour stomach churning jeep ride on extremely bumpy roads.




Back in Kathmandu, as I laid there in my hotel bed surrounded by the sounds of an overcrowded city, it all just seemed like a dream.



 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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