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.
In the evening my teammates and I had coffee at a place called 4410 (named for the elevation of the cafe at 4410m or 14,,470ft. This was a bustling, large cafe in Dinboche. They served top quality baked pastries and drinks. Inside was decorated with flowers and ferns with a strong Starbucks frangrance throughout. Surrounding 4410 was nothing but dusty rock paths, yak dung, and primitive stone structures. It was a surreal experience entering and exiting 4410.
Today we trekked from Dinboche (14469ft) to Dzongla (15,748ft), located along the Chola Pass. Along the way we stopped in Thukla - a tiny little town with one cafe - and drank Masala Tea with breathtaking views of touring mountains in every direction.
I met an elderly women Sherpa along the way who was hauling at least 100lbs of stuff up a mountain on her back. It made me realize just how capable humans really are. She moved slowly but steadily, showing no sign of pain or agony, smiling and laughing with friends.
I was full of energy today, running up and down hills a long the trail.
Today we headed from Dzongle (15600ft) to Lobuche high camp (17000ft). One of the yaks rebelled this morning when packs were mounted on his back. He shook the duffle bags off his back and then charged full force after Paul, our guide. He was casually watching our yak herder mount bags onto the yaks when suddenly one came charging after him. He literally jumped about 5 feet into the air and ran for his life. We all had a great laugh.
The climb to Lobuche high camp was pretty much straight upward over rock and boulders.
Lobuche high camp was the first stop that we actually slept in tents and not beds. We had no use for our sleeping pads since each tent already had thin foam mattresses inside. The kitchen tent was huge and cozy.
We woke up at 1:30AM the next morning to climb Lobuche. Our guide insisted that we start the climb in our double boots. Looking up at Lobuche and noticing how 3/4 of the climb would be on rock, I though this was a lousy decision and asked him several times if we could climb in regular boots. Double boots are great for a summit push on snow and to keep toes very warm. They are, however, extremely unstable on rock - especially if there is ice.
David and I were the first to leave camp and summit, but the first part of the climb was slow and unsteady. I was cursing out loud half way up the mountain as we kept losing our balance in those clunky double boots. It was a huge relief when we finally approached snow level and were able to put on our crampons.
Our Sherpa, on the other hand, was wearing worn out walking shoes all the way up the mountain! Naturally his crampons kept coming off because his shoes were far from crampon compatible! Our poor Sherpa had to readjust his crampons every 50 feet or so but he never seemed to mind. I noticed that most of the Sherpas were using worn out and outdated gear. Could it be that they simple feel it unnecessary to have the latest and finest gear? Or perhaps they simply cannot afford thousands of dollars of updated gear? Gear shops line the streets of Kathmandu and you can get some amazing deals on top brands. The issue is that these items are often not of good quality and cheap replicas of top quality brands.
There were a few teams ahead of us climbing Lobuche but with our consistent and steady pace, Lakpa Sherpa, David and I passed them by and were the first to make it to the summit that day. The weather couldn't have been better, and the views were breathtaking. Although I wouldn't consider Lobuche a technical mountain, there were definitely short sections of vertical ice and rock climbing. On the summit we were surrounds by giants, Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, etc. staring back at us.
Since the weather was so gentle, we goofed around on the summit for about 45 minutes, dancing, hugging, and just having a grand old time. Lobuche summit alluded us each time we thought it was getting closer. The climb just kept going and going, higher and higher. We returned to high camp at 11:30 that morning (a total of 9 hours of climbing) and were greeted by Sherpas dancing to AC/DC music and a fresh plate of pasta!
The next group of climbers showed up shortly after returning to camp. They literally stood in front of us without warning while we frantically scooped everything out of our tent. Everyone was exhausted from the climb and instead of resting, we were told to get the heck out of our tents as quick as possible. We then proceeded on another 5 hour trek down the mountain and to a small village called Pheriche. We were so exhausted and hungry that night so we woofed down 5 pizza pies. I wasn't sure if this was how things were supposed to unfold but other climbers were furious with how the day went. Although I certainly don't mind a little challenge here and there, I too wonder if it was necessary to squeeze all of that (14 hours climbing/trekking) into one day.
Pheruche was a very low key relaxing place that is usually disregarded by trekkers because of its location off the beaten path. There's a fairly large clinic and helicopter pad in town, making it a significant location for evacuation and emergency health care for climbers.
Kearen gave one of the kitchen workers here a jacket of his and they were extremely grateful and tickled by the offer. That evening, I met a single climber from Jeju Island - just South of mainland Korea. He was attempting to trek the 3 passes Chola 5660m, Rindula 4310m, and Kombula 5600m and get a permit from Dingboche to climb Island Peak 6160m. He told me the reason why he's hiking alone is because it's hard to match the pace of others. I could definitely relate to that. In general, Koreans also prefer to travel in groups and seeing this lonesome climber made me reevaluate my assumptions.
Simple day. We trekked an hour back to Pengbocje to meet other climbers coming up from Lukle. They will be acclimatization on Ama Dablam, whereas we already did so by climbing Lobuche.
Today we ascended about 2000ft from Pangbuche to Ama Damblam base camp and were immediately struck by how pristine and beautiful the base camp was.
This is by far the best lodge accommodations we've had so far on this trip. Our rooms were equipped with thick wind proof doors and double pained windows. Our kind lodge host, Ngima Sherpa, went out of his way to assure that we were comfortable. We had a buffet lunch that was absolutely delicious consisting of panini sandwich, fried potatoes, refried beans and garlic soup. Every meal at the lodge thereafter was buffet style with curries, soups, steak, and other exquisite dishes.
Interestingly, our entire trip consisted of teas and foods that are specifically to support our energy and immune systems when climbing and acclimating. We were greeted with ginger lemon tea each time we arrived at a lodge to stay the night. Foods were always rich in protein, warm, soft and easy to digest. Spices added to our meals helped warm our core and protect us from the cold. These accommodations were a huge step above most other climbs where a tent for sleeping and kitchen is all you get.
Those climbing with Nims Dai - a famous climber who climbed all 14 highest peaks in record time - and Elite Exped pay an arm and leg to climb Ama Dablam. Yet they sleep in in tents while we're paying a fraction of the cost and sleeping in comfortable beds inside a lodge. As crazy as it sounds, we were one of only a few groups on the mountain staying at the base camp lodge! Apparently this place was built only 6 months ago and word didn't get out yet about the superior accommodations. Meanwhile the traditional base camp was filled with tents and no lodge!
As usual I was the first one up and since already acclimatized, I didn't feel too tired or out of breath. Our group, previously acclimated, waited for the 15 others newcomers to arrive sitting/laying down in the sun and chilling.
My cough and cold symptoms, which was literally killing me the night prior, felt so much better in the morning, like a fog lifted. I am still stuffy and breathing out of my nose is not an option but whatever! Otherwise doing well.
Ian, who most of us thought would never make it this far, kept plugging along and was only 5 min behind us on the trek up to Dengboche. He maintained a healthy appetite at altitude. Who knows? That bugger may prove us all wrong by getting up Ama Dablam. At any rate, he is an amazing person and gentleman and I'm in awe of his tremendous determination despite being in his 70s and having never made an alpine ascent before.
Kearen kept an amazing pace not far behind me today, cracking jokes the entire time. I felt blessed to climb with him - an Irish dude from Dublin, who always kept us entertained with his raw sense of humor. I felt closest to David, an experienced climber from Rome. He is a soft spoken fun loving gentle sole. David has a daughter who has very similar interests as my daughter. He showed me a sample of her art which was very deep, a little grim, and extremely expressive. She also loves Anime and dreams of going to Akihabara, Japan. Listening to how much he loves his daughter and the similarities between us, I have a feeling my daughter and his would get along beautifully. I suggested we all travel to Japan together next year.
Although Paul, our guide, suddenly was in charge of 15 or so more climbers, he was still the considerate, kind, and individually attentive person he naturally is.
Sleep was a struggle last night. Every five minutes I felt this strange energy run through my body that made me feel like I'm going to explode. I was finally able to sleep for a few hours after watching an episode of a Korean drama under my covers. There were many restless nights like this to come and so I watched another 10 hours of the Korean Drama, "Ittaewon Class" which I downloaded before the trip.
In the morning ,we participated in a Pujja ceremony to bless our passage through the mountain and to bless our gear. The ceremony was an hour and a half long. The Llama who trekked all the way up to base camp for the ceremony, read from a Buddhist Sutra while making offerings to the gods. The alter was filled with different wines, snacks, fruits, etc. There was also a large cauldron filled with burning Juniper. Directly after the ceremony we were served all of the offerings on the alter along with a huge veggie burger, sausages, and fries. The burger was so big that none of us could come close to finishing it despite our nagging hunger.
Today was a chill day at base camp intended for acclimatization and training for our upcoming climb. The yaks headed off to take our stuff up to advanced base camp AKA ABC. Then it's all up to us to haul gear from there to camp 1 and then camp 2. Apparently, there's no water from this point upward so the Sherpas worked out a plan to hike to a lake and haul chunks of ice on their backs 2000ft upward to camp one. We originally thought they were kidding us or just plain crazy, but when we got to Camp one there were chunks of ice stacked beside the cook tent. We were all in total shock! Yet the Sherpas simply stood there with smiles on their faces as if it were no big deal.
With a lot of time on my hands, David and I decided to hike up another 1000ft to take pictures and look around. We passed through the traditional Ama Dablam base camp with 100s of tents spread out across an area about the size of 3 football fields. Among them were huge dome tents with Nims Dai Elite Exped written on them. Nims Dai is a climber from Nepal who recently summitted all 14 of the tallest mountains in the world and is the creater of the documentary "14 Peaks". Nims was playing volleyball with other Sherpas when we arrived so I decided to return later in order to meet him directly. After returning to our lodge I grabbed my camera and climbed back up to traditional base camp to meet Nims. At first I didn't see him outside so I asked someone on his team if they knew where he was. They kindly directed me into one of the huge dome tents where Nims was casually talking with another one of his team members. I went up to Nims and greeted him in Nepali, telling him that I deeply respected him. Nims stood up and gave me a big hug. He then proceeded to escort me outside the tent to take photos together. Nims told me that he was very happy I was so enthusiastic about climbing and that I am very welcome any time back to his country. He was extremely polite and cordial. It felt like a dream to be standing next to the world's most famous and skilled climber!
Today was our climb to advanced base camp, also known as ABC. Nothing about this camp was actually more advanced than our cozy lodge at base camp. "Advanced" simply means that it was above base camp. Other than the spectacular view of the valley below, there were no cooked dinners, bathrooms, or any other luxuries.
The climb was rather steep and rocky as we went from 15,000ft to 17,792ft.
I could hardly breath that night as I felt claustrophobic and had difficulty adjusting to higher altitude. I had no difficulty adjusting to high altitude on my previous climb up Denali and I assumed it was due extreme dust exposure in the valley combined with cold symptoms.
We made our way slowly but surely to camp one. I always considered myself a very strong climber bit this short trek of of 1000 ft truly and totally kicked my ass.
A lack of sleep, Khumbu cough getting worse, and trouble breathing all night contributed to the toughest, most exhausting day on my trip.
We trekked from ABC (Advanced Base Camp) to camp one. Began to get hint of what Ama's truly made of. Dirt turned to rock and rock to slab. Fixed ropes, from this point onward, were now our companions as we clung to them like a newborn child against its mother.
The altitude was starting to make our bodies and breath heavier. Perched on an outcropping directly above us, Camp one seemed so much closer than it actually was.
Camp one was a pile of rocks that Sherpas of the past miraculously cleared in spots to allow just enough room for tents. It was truly incredible! We were basically sleeping on a stack of rocks with views so beautiful they bring tears to the eyes. It felt like we were on top of the world and any wrong move would send us flying. Our tent was the highest in camp and we literally had to rock climb to get to it. We all now have the Khumbu cough and sound like a bunch of chain smokers. Jason said he wanted to turn around and go home this morning. Amazing Ian just keeps plugging a long. The Sherpas brought tea and dinner (boiled water for our freeze dried supper) to our tents with the kindest smile you'd only see in people who truly love to serve. They are miracle men who have climbed Everest and other 8000m peaks numerous times, lightening the load for others. They are the true heroes of the Himalayas.
My cough slowly worsened and started to get deeper as I ascended to Camp One.
We were all coughing and hacking... Paul told us this is the norm. While I saw many people coughing at base camp, there were a few climbers who were cough free. Until now, I was the strongest on my team, always in front, dancing and singing my way up the mountain. This cough was zapping my energy and tearing away at my abilities. I kept thinking, "how amazing I'd feel without this lousy cough/cold". Yet mountains are mountains and I still felt a charge from mother Ama.
There was no bathroom at Camp One. Poop or pee anywhere, but be careful! There's a 3000 ft drop on both sides. Ian referred to pooping there as an "airy anal" sensation because wind would pass through the rocks and go right up his ass as soon as he squatted down to take a dump. There was shit everywhere, but what other choice do climbers have?
Today was a trek from Camp 1 to Camp 2 - the crux of the climb.
Woke up feeling like complete crap. I started hacking up dark brown and green sputum from deep within my lung, each time zapping away at my energy. I saw the other team members starring at me in shock. David, the most experienced member of the team later shared with me that my situation impacted him deeply. How could someone with my strength and enthusiasm in the mountains drop in energy so quickly without warning? For him it showed that mountaineering is so unpredictable and even those in the best of shape and resistance are prone to the final say of the mountains. I've always been the one to persevere, the last to stand, and now I'm vulnerable as could be. Not even able to pack my bags without Sherpa and guide help. I felt like a hopeless child. With every ounce of energy, I simply pushed forward, one step after another, as the voice inside me said "you can do this!"
We slowly made our way onward up the steep and technical slopes of Ama. According to one Sherpa, the section between camp 1 and camp 2 was the most difficult. This didn't intimidate me even an ounce because, despite my condition, I was completely falling in love with the steep but climbable sections. The rock was of the best quality I've ever climbed on. Hand holds and cracks everywhere! My shoes gripped the rock almost as if they were made for rock climbing. I felt the pure joy of climbing in this perfect setting. Every 15 minutes or so, however, I'd start to cough, deeper, stronger, and completely out of control. It would steal every ounce of energy I had. I could do nothing but simply hold onto the rope and hang until the coughing stopped. Phlegm continued to get thicker and I started to notice a few red streaks in my sputum along with dark brown and green. As soon as I saw this, I immediately decided that going beyond Camp 2 that evening for the summit push was not an option. In what felt like a drunken haze, all I could see was one other climber, David, slowly trailing behind me. Despite feeling utterly exhausted from coughing, Ama's energy and the absolute joy of rock climbing still put me way ahead of everyone else. The mountain was the driver and I was in the back seat enjoying the ride!
When we finally arrived at Camp 2, I collapsed in the nearest tent I could find, still coughing my lungs out. I went to sleep using my helmet as a pillow with boulders jutting out in all directions beneath me. Nothing at that point stopped me from going to sleep. This was Camp 2. Nothing but an outcropping of sharp rocks and tents that were erected at a sharp angle along the side of the cliff. That evening when I crawled into my tent to sleep, I noticed a huge rock about two feet high that stuck straight out from the tent floor right at my midsection. I tried to lay down on it and immediately slid down the side and landed directly onto my tentmate Ian. We both laughed and were just about to give up on our sleep that night when suddenly I had an idea. I unzipped the vestibule and pushed my legs outside the front of the tent and kept my upper body inside. I then rezipped the tent around my abdomen to keep the cold air from coming in. The next morning, our guide Paul saw my legs hanging outside the tent and came over to see if I was okay. Actually, believe it or not, I was quite comfortable that evening - especially since I didn't have to sleep on a rock digging into my midsection!
Observing how strong I was up until that day, my guide encouraged me to give the summit a try after resting that evening. However, I knew enough about my lung condition to believe this was the end of the line for me. I told my guide "if by some miracle I get better within the next few hours, then yes, I'll join you for a summit push. But knowing how conditions like this only get worse the higher you climb, I'm likely going to sit this one out". At 20,000ft there was little chance of my body recovering since everything slows down at this altitude.
At 12:00AM the next morning Paul set out for the summit with David and Kearen. I heard them get ready but decided to go back to sleep since my lungs and cough didn't improve. The winds were forecasted at 50 to 60 MPH that evening and I was very worried about their safety. Luckily, the forecast was wrong (again!) and there was very little wind that evening. After what should have taken them 6+ hours to climb, Paul, David, and Kearin aborted their summit attempt returned only 45 minutes later.
According to what Paul told us the next morning, the summit push was aborted because David was showing signs of extreme fatigue and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) and Kearen decided, as his crampons slid and scraped against a rock wall, the climb was too challenging for him. So, in short, for all of our different reasons, nobody on our team summitted Ama Dablam that evening.
It might be worth noting here that none of us felt defeat or regret. We spent the better half of a month together climbing every day, banging another peak in the process, and experiencing a completely different way of life. With such a valuable overall experience, not being able to climb the last section of Ama Dablam didn't seem like a great loss. The remaining third of our trip was just as exciting and enjoyable together as a team. We joked, laughed, and looked forward to what lied ahead both in the mountains and with our families back at home.
We were later told that three members of the team from after us (Team 2) summitted 3 days later, but none of the remaining 20+ members from any of the teams were successful. With such a strong team of experienced climbers, we all knew deep inside that there will be a sequel to Ama Dablam. David, Kearin and I discussed how we'd like to climb it once again.
We headed down to base camp after having breakfast at Camp 2 that morning. I immediately started to feel my energy returning while descending and naturally picked up my pace again. My condition improved steadily the lower I was.
We rested and ate well for the next few days at Ama Dablam Base Camp. On one evening, we watched The Life of Brian in one of the lodge rooms with a small projector that I brought with me to Nepal. We grabbed cookies from the kitchen and some tea, and then cuddled up together beneath a thick blanket to stay warm. Four mountaineers huddled together on a tiny bed laughing like children. Precious moments.
Our group was given the option of taking a short 4 hour helicopter ride or hike four days to get back to Lukla. We unanimously decided to hike back in order to experience the beauty of the Khumbu Valley again. Of course this meant I'd breath in even more dust from the trail and aggravate my lungs further. But I didn't want to cut our experience in the Himalayas short. This was a once in a lifetime experience that I hoped to extend as long as possible despite coughing like crazy.
Our trip back was extremely relaxed since we had no more expectations and anticipations. We were simply 4 guys walking casually through the valley, taking in the sights, and greeting others along the trail. There was no pressure - we had all the time in the world. In some ways, we finally felt like this was a vacation.
Although we ate pretty well during our trip, none of us had a single piece of fresh fruit for a month. So you can imagine how happy I was to see people selling fruit outside the airport after our flight back to Ramechab. I approached one vender, a middle-aged man, who was sitting barefoot on the dirt beside the road selling bananas for 50 cents each. I grabbed a banana and asked him, "How much?" He proceeded to answer me in fluent English, "You don't want that one, its a little old, here take this one. Better yet, take these three". I couldn't believe my ears! Not only did this man speak better English than anyone else I met from Nepal, but his offer (3 of his freshest bananas for the price of 1) was extremely generous. Having a little time on my hands, I decided to sit down and get to know him. It turned out that he has a Master's Degree in English Literature from a University in Darjeeling, not far from Ramechab! Yet here he was, with a huge smile on his face, selling bananas to an occasional passerby. Thirty minutes passed before I knew it as we talked about our lives and families. He offered to show me around the area and a place to stay next time I returned to Nepal.
I basically hibernated for days after we returned to Kathmandu, sleeping throughout the day and night. Each day I felt more and more like myself again. Hours were spent reflecting on such an incredible trip and planning for my return to the Himalayas. I did seize the chance to sneak out for a few hours and run across Kathmandu to visit Monkey Temple.