Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nepal Earthquake

I just learned of the devastating earthquake news out of Nepal.

In the interest of clarity for those who might not have read my initial entry, I am writing my Everest narratives from a journal I kept during my trip, which ended two weeks ago. I am back in Singapore out of harm's way.

It's hard to think past the tragic loss of life, but the reality is that Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries and will be hard pressed to handle the economic costs of meeting the immediate needs of those suffering, let alone trying to recover long term from the disaster.

A couple of minutes ago, I made a contribution to Catholic Relief Services, which is one of my favorite charities. If you could spare a few dollars, I would encourage you to also consider a donation to one of the numerous international relief agencies.

Here's a link from CNN with a list of agencies assisting in Nepal.

I appreciate all of you who have been reading my blog, but in light of today's events, I feel it best to suspend my posts for awhile. 

Everest Expedition (Day 9) - Dingboche

Trail to Dingboche, Nepal

"The guides are so serious all of a sudden," a fellow trekker said to me today. I've noticed it too, although it's subtle. There's less talking on the trail. There's less joking, and the guides are sticking closer to their trekkers, but mainly it's the increasing frequency of questions.

"How did you sleep last night?" which really means, Did you have any shortness of breath?

"How are you feeling today?" which is really asking, Do you have a headache? How intense is the headache? Is the headache getting worse? Do you have any nausea, vomiting or dizziness?

"What did you think about that last climb?" which is really meant to ascertain a hiker's energy level and rate of breathing.

If I were a guide, I'd be in everyone's business, too.

We're well above 10,000 feet, the altitude where 40% of us would be expected to experience some form of acute altitude sickness The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy.

Rest, drugs, or, perhaps, a day or two at a lower elevation, can alleviate most acute altitude sickness, but what the guides are really concerned about are the two biggies - high-altitude pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and high-altitude cerebral edema (swelling of the brain).

If those strike, it's life threatening, meaning the hiker has to be moved to a lower altitude immediately. Fortunately, such reactions occur in only about one percent of the population, but it's always on the minds of the guides.

Enough of the medical talk.

In case you're wondering, the picture at the top of this post is from a mountain pass about two hours straight up from Phortse Villlage.

I've already mentioned my guide, Pasang. It seems like an excellent time to also introduce you to my porter, Dorje.

I carry my own backpack, which is the tiny blue thing on the right, but Dorje carries extra gear that I won't need during the day, such as my sleeping back, poncho, and any extra clothing. Really, I probably don't need a porter because my pack is so light.

When I arrived at Lukla, one of the guides picked up my pack and laughed because it weighs about 15 pounds (7 kg). Hey, I've learned to travel light, but Dorje's services were included in my fee, and I feel good about providing him with the work. Plus, I plan to give him a nice tip.

As Pasang has told me on more than one occasion, money is hard to come by in the Himalayas, so trekking-related services are a way to earn a lot of much-needed income.

Dingboche, Nepal

We've now arrived in Dingboche. At 14,304 feet (4,360 meters), it's about the highest I've ever been, certainly the highest altitude where I've attempted to hike for several hours. It took me six hours of grueling trekking to get here. The view didn't come cheap.

The foot traffic is picking up, both with hikers and with porters carrying supplies to base camp on Everest.

Although there's an occasional "hello" from passing trekkers, each person seems to be absorbed, concentrating on the rocky, uneven trail; not wanting to waste too much energy in pleasantries, energy that's needed to climb; and focusing on reaching his or her personal goal, which for one might be getting to base camp or for another getting through the next hour.

Tomorrow, I've got another "rest day," featuring a local, two-to-three hour acclimatization hike and afterward just two more days to Everest. I'm extremely excited.

My strength remains high. My ankle feels fine, and the only problem I've experienced with the altitude is a slight headache.

Even though I haven't been in contact, I feel your positive thoughts and your love floating to me through the chilly, mountain breezes as I continue my trek toward the top of the world.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Everest (Day 8) - Phortse Village

Phortse Village, Nepal
Welcome to the latest stop on my Nepalese tour, Phortse Village. About the only foreigners you'll find here are headed to or from Mt. Everest. It sits at 12,573 feet (3,810 meters).

Here's my tea house.

Today's trek took four hours, another up and down affair. Each day, the names of the villages change, but the hikes are almost identical - long,difficult, and tiring.

Still, even on the toughest days, the views can't be beat. I know. I know. You're heard it before, but the pictures just don't do the landscape justice. Pictures can't convey the smell or the sensation of the crisp, cold mountain breezes blowing against one's body. Pictures give no hint of the sound of solitude at the top of mountain passes. Pictures can't capture the satisfaction of making it successfully to the end of another hike.

Life is difficult here, especially the work.

Planting Potatoes 

One of the most important crops in the Himalayas is potatoes. These women are planting them by hand, after having dug up the rocky soil with simple spades. Subsistence farming is the norm.

Bulls are also used to make the task a little easier.

I discovered an interesting fact about meat. Because the country is overwhelmingly Buddhist, many Buddhists won't slaughter livestock, so meat has to be carried up from Kathmandu, just like everything else.

Imagine unrefrigerated meat after two or three days on the trail. That's why it's not recommended to eat it above Namche. Everest turns a lot of hikers into temporary vegetarians.

Before I began my hike, the owner of my trekking agency told me there are several mental challenges on the journey. I've already faced rain and fatigue. Today, it was illness.

My stomach has been out of whack for the last couple of days, which is understandable because hygiene tends to be lacking at higher altitudes. That's not a criticism. Water is a precious commodity, so there's not a lot to go around for things like hand washing. I've got hand sanitizer, but I can't control the rest of my environment.

This morning, I again awoke seeing my breath, with the added challenge of how to get through the day so far from a toilet. Sure, there's always a rock to hide behind, what my guide and I like to call the "mountain toilet," but, well, you get the picture.

A prescription pill got me through. I'm hoping my problem is short lived.

I realize though that it's all part of the experience. Lately, I feel each morning that I must answer to some kind of nameless, faceless, impersonal mountain god. He's got only one question, "Do you want to keep moving forward?"

That's it. He doesn't ask me if I've had a good night's sleep or if I'm sore or if I'm in the mood to hike five more hours.

It's just a simple, "Are you in or are you out?" It provides amazing clarity. My answer has been nothing but an enthusiastic "yes," each day. The only alternative is a long, disappointing walk home.

The bottom line is no one cares about my problems, which are minimal. All trekkers share a common goal, but we each are on our own journey with our own set of challenges.

At lunch, I witnessed the heartbreaking sight of a hiker limping toward his table, barely able to move. I wasn't sure if he was going to make it to the other side of the room, let alone any farther up the trail. I'm sure his journey is about to come to end.

That's the cruel, random fate of the trek. That's Everest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Everest Expedition (Day 7) - Khumjung

Khumjung, Nepal

I've now arrived at Khumjung, a small village known for its Sherpa culture. If you're attempting to climb to the top of Mount Everest, this is where you'll probably find the porters and guides to get you there.

One of the tourist attractions here ...

is a 600-year-old monastery
containing a rather unusual
relic, a supposed scalp of  a Yeti, "Abominable Snowman".

I made a small donation to see the glass case with the artifact and was allowed to take a couple of pictures.

Judge for yourself.


Is this part of an Abominable Snowman?

Khumjung is located at 12,475 feet (3,790 meters). The 1,000-foot gain in elevation took me about two and a half hours of serious, uphill climbing.

The higher I hike the colder it gets. Down jackets, down sleeping bags, and hats are now a necessity. Mornings are rough. With no heat, the second I unzip my sleeping bag the frigid air chills my bones and leaves me seeing my breath each time I exhale.

The accommodations in the Himalayas are called tea houses, simple structures with a common bathroom and a communal dining room.

The only temporary reprieve from the cold is a cast-iron stove that gets lit in the dining room each evening for a couple of hours, which is why you'll find trekkers, guides, and porters alike seated around the stove struggling to keep warm.

Speaking of the dining room, the food has been quite good and quite abundant. I can choose anything from rice dishes to pasta dishes to pizza. I've never had so much food piled on my plate, which makes sense because I need the extra calories for hiking, but my guide told me that digestion slows down at higher elevations, so it's a real guessing game to eat enough food without overdoing it.

The national dish of choice is called dal bhat, a platter of soupy lentils, rice, and normally some type of vegetables, such as potatoes. As the saying goes, "dal bhat power 24 hours." Dal bhat has powered me up my share of mountain passes.

Buddhism permeates all aspects of life in Nepal. Believers turn prayer wheels to obtain blessings and for good luck. The wheels contain scrolls inside with mantras written on them. Buddhists believe that when someone spins a wheel the mantras are activated and released, bringing positive benefits to all.

Travelers often turn the wheels upon leaving or entering a village, a practice I've embraced, seeking any assistance I can get.

In many ways, I feel like I'm living hundreds of years ago, as far as transportation. If a person wants to get to another village, he walks because there are no cars, buses, or even roads. The only alternative is a rather expensive helicopter ride, which is out of the question for most.

At this point in my trek, I've passed the last major outpost, Namche. From here forward, the climbing gets harder and harder, but each step is bringing me closer to the Everest base camp.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Everest (Day 6) - Namche - Rest Day

This is the view I woke up to this morning. Not bad.

Although it was a "rest day," I'm beginning to realize the term "rest day" is a euphemism for "you're going to do a grueling hike but you're just not leaving the village" because I trekked for about three hours, most of it uphill, to further acclimatize.

I'm certainly not complaining. It just makes me think there are some difficult challenges ahead, if this was my "rest day." What are I being prepared to face in the coming days?

This morning, I felt a bit of a minor headache but nothing else to indicate the onset of altitude sickness. Having suffered the condition in Peru, I know what to expect, and it was a far cry from that debilitating experience.

My guide Pasang says the fact that I haven't had any more serious symptoms of altitude sickness, as well as my continued high-energy level, are both positive early signs, as we head toward even higher elevations.

This psycho-looking guy is me at the conclusion of my steep "rest day" trek to the top of a mountain above Namche.

After hiking, I enjoyed one of life's simple pleasures - a hot, $4 shower. Hot water is at a premium, so showers cost extra. However, it's so cold at night without heat that most trekkers chose to forgo bathing, which I'd done for three days, but since I finished my hike early, and the sun was still out, I took advantage of the opportunity, not knowing when I'd have it again.

By the way, here's my latest room, which has been the most comfortable, so far.

Tomorrow, I'm back on the trail.

Note;  After two days of flight cancellations, the rest of my group finally made it to Lukla, but they'll never catch up, so it looks like I'll be hiking solo throughout my journey. At least, I get along with the guy in the picture.