Himalayan Climb 11/22
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Not sure when it will actually sink in that I'm heading to Nepal to climb in the Himalayas. The last few months felt like a roller coaster of emotion, fortune and misfortune. Yet everything seemed to fall into place just hours before my flight to Nepal. Now I'm sitting on a plane to Kathmandu with all of that behind me now.
I dedicated the last few months to strengthening my mind and body, honing in on climbing skills, meditating, biking, etc. Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent in an altitude room to enhance the production of RBCs. I trained 1-2 hours a day, 6.5 days a week. I spent less time training in the mountains compared to the preparation for Denali since Mt. Hood and other PNW peaks were in shoulder season - a time of the year when mountains are particularly unsafe to climb. But overall, I was in top shape and felt ready to take on Ama Dablam - a 22,400 peak.
It all started to sink in when the Himalayan range came into view during the last 20 minutes of our flight from Singapore to Kathmandu. Up until then I kept asking myself, "when is this darn 30 hour voyage going to end??"
My first piece of luggage was one of the first pieces to arrive at the Kathmandu Airport baggage claim. But i waited 40 more minutes until the second piece, which was one of the last. With three plane transfers and thousands of dollars worth of climbing gear, I was a bit nervous about my luggage arriving to say the least.
I had my first glance into Nepali life while waiting for my luggage. The airport was nothing but chaos since all planes that landed shared the same luggage carrousel. Yet, according to a kind stranger at the airport, sometimes luggage will find its way to the other side of the airport. In which case you have to search every little nook and cranny. Yet in the midst of this chaos, Nepali passengers looked after one another. Strangers helped others unload and carry bags. People were smiling and joking and not a single person looked angry, upset or stressed about the situation they were in.
Nobody was waiting for me at the airport despite that fact that Summit Climb said someone would be there. Luckily, getting a taxi from the airport was easier than I thought. Apparently, English is spoken as a second language in Nepal and I was introduced to a pre-pay taxi service at the airport. The fare was incredibly cheap and the service was spectacular. My taxi driver called the hotel and Summit Climb office on his cell phone just to confirm arrangements and make sure everything was okay.
Thank goodness I was told beforehand about traffic in Kathmandu because it was not just a chaotic mess, but outright scary as hell. Cars come from every direction. There are no traffic lights or lines in the road. The only way to get from point A to B is to swerve in and out of opposing traffic. Highways went from asphalt to dirt, and potholes to boulders. Roads were narrow and dust was everywhere. Cars and people shared every inch of road.
Colors everywhere - green, red, orange flashing by so fast. Robes, baskets, tiny stores music, smiles, fruits, food, cooking, sewer smell, delicious smell. Absolute chaos and pure beauty blended together.
Tangled powerlines paralleled roads like giant cobwebs - ready to electrocute anyone who passed underneath. It was as if I entered a dream, not having ever experienced anything that resembled what I saw unfolding rapidly right before my eyes.
At the Harati Manor Inn I saw Dan Mazur casually sitting at a table in the lobby telling jokes. Hungry beyond comprehension I uttered, "What's for dinner?" Minutes later, the hotel staff presented me with a huge plate of French toast and French fries. I gobbled them down easily but couldn't help wonder why the two were served together. Could it be the Nepalese interpretation of "French" food?
That night Dan Mazur took us out to a fancy Thai Restaurant called "Yin Yang" with its own very cute courtyard. He asked again and again if we were content with the food and even ordered us fresh baked desert from a bakery nearby. The streets around us were filled with joy and celebration as the Nepalese celebrated Tihar - a five day holiday of which dogs, cows, and sibling are worshipped. Animals and siblings are showered with flower petals and given a mixture of colorful herbs smeared onto the forehead.
We had the entire day free to roam the streets of Kathmandu and take in the sights and sounds of a huge and overcrowded city. A Nepali young man, possibly in his late twenties, started to follow me as i aimlessly wandered around the bustling neighborhood. He kindly introduced himself in English and asked where I was heading. He proceeded to show me around the neighborhood and before I knew it, hours flowed by as we walked to a temple and art gallery. Since our visit to the temple was during Bhai Tika, our prayers ended with flower petals sprinkled on our heads and and herbal smear on our foreheads. The other climbers chuckled when I returned, saying that I've been converted to Hinduism. It felt a little weird having a big red spot on my forehead, but I was equally honored to have taken part in this ancient Hindu tradition. Time seemed to fly by as I discussed everything from religion to politics with my young and intelligent guide. Yet the whole time I felt a little uneasy as he took me through a few narrow and dark alleys and I dreaded the idea that he would probably ask me for money. Eventually he did, along with a very sad story about his family. Believable or not, I gave him what I thought was an adequate amount considering the hours he spent with me. I thought that kindness goes a long way, even if it isn't entirely genuine.
I brought with me 10 lbs of snacks to Nepal thinking there wouldn't be much available in KTM. Man, was I wrong! There's more delicious food in KTM than anywhere in the USA. You can also purchase anything from Pringles to chocolate bars at any of the local stores.
Dogs in Nepal aren't domesticated, freely roaming streets and highways. They sleep during the day and roam at night. Despite not having a home to live in, they are surprisingly friendly, well-fed, and non-territorial. Dogs rarely bark at people in Nepal, instead they gently approach trekkers, looking for attention.
Early this morning we hopped into a small van and rode 5 hours from our hotel in Kathmandu to a small town named Remachab. On the way, we travelled along washed out dirt roads that were so bumpy that our heads slammed against the roof of the the bus on more than one occasion. There was rarely enough room for two busses to pass on these roads and we narrowly missed - by an inch or two in some cases - hitting opposing traffic.
We glamped (glamorously camped) at a resort in Ramechab equipt with a full outside bar and huge swimming pool. Tents were the size of large rooms and beds were plushy and clean. The foods was also of superior quality, ranging from Indian, Italian to American.
Flight from Ramechab to Lukla Airport
Trek from Lukle to Phakding
We woke at 5:00AM the next day to maximize our potential for flying to Lukla. Our chances of getting there depended on how crowded the airport was and weather conditions in both Ramechab and Lukla. We were told that sometimes climbers have to wait up to a week! The airport in Lukla is considered the most dangerous in the world with an extremely short runway with a cliff on one end and a huge rock wall on the other. Luckily the pilots in Nepal are the best of the best, landing in places that most pilots wouldn't even attempt. The small airport in Ramechab was extremely crowded with trekkers and climbers alike hoping to get on a small bush plane. Cloudy weather in Lukla delayed our flight only a few hours. Once in the air we could see endless mesas built into the mountains below. I was surprised to see a thick haze all the way from Ramechab to Lukla. Later, I concluded that it was due to the intense amount of dust in the Khumbu Valley. Dust that eventually made its way deep into my lungs and caused a debilitating cough while I climbed through the Khumbu valley.
Landing in Lukla wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. The pilot seemed to have perfect control of his craft, hitting the short runway just right and slamming on the brakes as soon we we touched down as to not hit the huge wall in front of us.
Lukla was a very cute town carved into the mountainside and lined with tiny stores, coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants. Pretty much everything one needs can be found in this tiny place! We ate lunch at the Namaste Lodge and then we were off to start our trek up the Khumbu Valley to our first stop in Phakding!
This is where we said goodbye to our luggage, which from here onward will be transporting on the back of a yak. These poor beasts will have to haul 100+ lbs of my shit up a mountain. I though we'd run into these guys huffing and puffing their way up. But actually, these beasts, as slow as they look, left us in the dust.
Along the way, I noticed that the flora in the Himalayas was strikingly similar to that of Oregon. There were bracken ferns, firs, and hemlocks. The forest was also filled with Himalayan Blackberries - an invasive crop that pretty much grows everywhere in Oregon, wild ginger, and cornus fruit (used in Chinese Medicne to strengthen the Kidneys).
After trekking for about 5 hours, we arrived at our destination Phakding. As with other nights, we went directly to the dining hall for dinner. The menu was exactly the same no matter which lodge we stayed at. It consisted of an eclectic mix of native Nepali food - referred to as Dal Bat, pizza, sandwiches, pasta, pancakes, and French Fries. Dal Bat is a combination of 3-5 small dishes consisting of potatoes, curry vegetable or chicken, Nan bread, veggies - usually steamed, and lentil soup. This is the only dish on the menu that includes refills. Servers kept returning with more and more Dal Bat until I told them "enough!" Interestingly, the other dishes on the menu were usually of smaller portion and severs never gave seconds.
Our yaks escaped this morning with all of our stuff on their backs. They headed for the woods and our yak herder spent hours looking for them. This was the only time our Yaks arrived later than we did at our next destination. Otherwise those beasts may look slow but they're faster than humans!
Weather this morning was perfect and sleep the night prior was comfortable, warm, and cozy.
At 4:00AM I snuck out and ran back down the trail in the dark. It felt great to be the only one on the trail and having the surrounding Himalayas all to myself. Got back to the lodge by 6:00AM.
Today we began another 5 hour trek from Phakding to Namche Bazaar - the home of the Sherpas! The trail along the way was dotted with tiny coffee shops with heavenly views of the Himalayas. The windows of these coffee shops were filled with stickers from previous expeditions, including those from Korea, USA, and Europe.
Other than a few coffee shops along the way, our trek was mostly remote, with nothing but rivers and mountains surrounding us. So you could imagine our surprise when we passed a bend and suddenly found ourselves at the gate of Namche Bazaar! This was a bustling little community in the middle of the valley equipped with water features, restaurants, coffee shops, and the highest Irish bar in the world! It is the original home of the Sherpas - although most currently live in Kathmandu where there's more opportunities and stuff to do. What makes Namche Bazaar so attractive is that it is literally built into a cliff. To maximize space and avoid falling of the mountain, they built shelves or mesas. So there's one big staircase that ascends through the center of town and stores/restaurants stacked one on top of another. On one of these mesas is a volleyball court that was littered with yak dung - since yaks are free to roam anywhere in the Himalayas. One of the Sherpas ran for the ball and stepped right into a pile of yak dung. His teammates and everyone else could not contain their laughter - we thought it was kind of funny too.
We stayed at the Hilltop Inn, located at the very top of town and the end of what seemed like an endless staircase. Getting to the hotel was felt like climbing a huge mountain. Something we had to do every time we returned from town - at least 3-4 times a day. Hilltop Hotel had a view of the surrounding mountains that was out of this world.
We shared the lodge with a huge team from French Canada. I thought they just came down from summiting a tall peak because they had a huge celebration with Sherpas. They were singing and dancing like crazy until 3:00AM. Apparently they returned from a trek to Everest Base Camp and just love to party. The Nepali people, in general, love to celebrate, dance and sing traditional songs. Our Sherpas, along with others that I met, were pure, humble, and life-loving people. I wondered before coming if Sherpas thought of climbing as work and not pleasure, but after witnessing first-hand their sense of pride and joy the answer is clear that they truly love what they do.
Our hotel also has a campground that overlooks the city and the splendid views that abound. I met two young men from Australia who were new to mountain climbing and trekking in the valley. They were so enthusiastic and courteous, asking tons questions about Ama Dablam.
After watching many climbing documentaries and movies, I falsely assumed that Himalayan porters were toothless, aged, and rugged old men, overworked and sick of their job. I’ve heard that it was common for them to go on strike and demand more money from climbers half way up the mountain! Well, luckily Summit Climb did not hire porters for our trip. Instead, we had four-legged furry beasts carry our 100+ lbs luggage up the mountain. In Phakding, our yaks did try to escape only to be found grazing up high on the mountain with our luggage still clinging to their backs. And true. in Dzongle, one charged full-force after our guide because it didn’t want to haul our heavy our stuff on its back. Yet, they never demanded more money from us or went on strike. They also never complained about eating sloppy leftovers from the kitchen even though an occasional stray tried to steal food from our camp.
After constantly passing by porters on my way up and down from Ama Dablam, however, all previous notions about them were put to rest. Most porters were actually very young, had all their teeth, with hairstyles and clothing that were quite fashionable. While carrying extremely heavy loads and climbing up the mountain, they were often looking down at their cell phones and blasting rap or other hip Nepali music. On occasion they’d sit down on a rock and rest for a bit, often to flip through short Tik Tok video clips. Yep! Even the Himalayas can’t escape the social media crusade.
Woke up with very slight headache and decided to run for 1.5 hrs back down and back up to Namche before breakfast. Sun started to rise already when I left at 5am. It was still dark below but the 22000+ peaks above were basked in golden light. The day was completely clear and the surrounding mountains were breathtakingly beautiful. From the hotel we saw a tiny bit of Ama Dablam for the first time, jutting her knife-edge peak above the surrounding mountains.
Today we went on an acclimatization hike above Namche and along the way stopped at a museum that displayed art made from trash left on Mt. Everest. The artist collected old soda cans, stoves, thermoses, etc to make birds, trees, and other sculptures out of trash. The museum itself was a piece of art, nestled high up in the mountain with huge windows and gorgeous stone work. I kept thinking, "how did they transport all of this material to such a remote place??" The artist was currently working on a project involving the scraps of a helicopter that crashed while attempting to rescue climbers on Mt. Everest a decade or so ago. The museum also featured a virtual reality experience of climbing Mt. Everest! The 5 minute long experience was created by actual Mt. Everest climbers while climbing Everest and allows you to look around, move forward, backward, etc as you virtually climb the mountain. It honestly feels as if your climbing the actual Everest!
On our way up to the museum, there was an elderly Tibetan woman selling handmade bracelets. Climbing up to this point with so many items must have been a feat in itself. I couldn't help but buy a bracelet and ask to take a picture with her.
At the top of our acclimatization trek, we stopped at a coffee shop with the most spectacular views I've ever seen - overlooking Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Manaslu. It was our first clear view of Ama Dablam and everyone was in complete awe of what unfolded before our eyes.
Today we trekked from Namche to Tengbuche up very steep and dusty switchbacks. Gorgeous scenery surrounded us constantly, making it easier to endure the challenging climb. I'm feeling very strong overall but could feel a slight cold emerging. This is likely because of the difficulty adapting to freezing cold evenings and the hot days.
Having the opportunity to meet and climb with Sherpas was one of the most memorable aspects of this trip. With so much experience climbing the tallest mountains in the world, it's easy to think they'd have egos the size of Texas (or Nepal). Yet this couldn't be further from the truth. Our Sherpas were humble, quiet, always ready to assist, and fun-loving people. They are generally short statured, slim built, but with very dense muscle. Just like younger generations in most other places in the world, they love listening to funky music, making funny pictures on snapchat, and watching Tiktok. Dancing is a huge part of their culture and we often saw Sherpas suddenly breaking into dance on the trail. There's a traditional Nepali song called Resham Firiri, that is sung and danced specifically in the mountains. I memorized this song before the trip in order to sing and dance with the Sherpas. Man, did we have fun together up there!!
Tengboche was a beautiful little town perched on the top another mountain and home of the largest (and oldest) Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. Our mission was to find the head Lama of the Khumbu Valley and receive his prayers for our climb. We searched everywhere and the Lama was nowhere to be found. After about an hour, he showed up, walking as fast as his 90 year old frail body allowed. Before receiving his blessings, we had to wrap money inside of a silk scarf, called a Kata, which eventually he placed around our necks to bless us. He also gave us a neckless and a small herbal pill, which by rubbing his tummy, he indicated we should eat. And lastly, he tapped us on the forehead with one of his prayer books to conclude his blessings. We then thanked him in Sherpa, his native tongue, by saying "thuje che".
Later we toured the monastery and watched Buddhist monks young and old singing and dancing in the courtyard. We also were shown the body parts of a mythical Yeti that supposedly flew down to Tengboche to visit the temple grounds. Standing at 12,687ft, the Tengboche monastery itself is over 100 years old.
We then continued our Trek to Pangbuche and arrived there at 3:55pm. Along the way, we were constantly entertained with views of Ama Dablam towering above us. After we arrived, I enjoyed delicious dinner next to a warm stove fueled with yak dung.
We made our way to Dinboche today. Weather was unbeatable - sunny skies and no wind! We gained 500m, and were now at 4410m (14,468ft). It was a fairly easy hike surrounded by monstrous mountains and a roaring rivers down below. We started out by rock hopping a small stream. Unfortunately, David fell into the stream and ruined his expensive camera. Luckily he wasn't injured despite being soaked in water.
One of our Sherpas, Lakpa, shed a few sympathetic tears as he saw David emerge from the stream with a broken camera. It was so humbling to witness him cry knowing that Lakpa must have experienced much worse in the mountains and yet even this situation had an strong impact on him. I later discovered that Lakpa spent 7 years studying at a monastery. Lapka is an impressive Sherpa, who not only an incredible climber, but goofy, funny, and an extremely caring dude. We arrived at Dinboche at 12:45.
Today my teammate asked me if their pace is too slow since they often saw me jogging up the mountain. I answered that they have a very efficient pace that will contribute to efficient acclimatization. But I asked them to forgive me when I get sudden urges to run up the mountain .
Today I woke up with my heart racing and with a headache. I took a half of diamox and slept a bit but still felt very uncomfortable. Every time I drifted off I'd wake up with a huge startling breath as if I was suffering from sleep apnea - this is actually a common high altitude sleep-related symptom called HAPB (High Altitude Periodic Breathing) . Luckily despite a lingering light cold and headache, I am feeling strong. Almost everyone on the team is coughing now due to extreme temp differences appx 80 degrees difference per day, dry/cold air, altitude, and very dusty trails.
Today we climbed 712 meters (2335 ft) to acclimatize and then back down to camp, the views were splendid... we can see Makalu, Ama, Everest and more. There were several pristine lakes along the way that were a deep bluish green color.