The trip of a lifetime - Nepal
by clivegrif » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:03 am
Date walked: 04/04/2010
Time taken: 1000
Distance: 160 km
Ascent: 5000m19 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Kathmandu is quite simply an assault on the senses, all of them. The sights are extraordinary, and the place appears to be in utter chaos. There are people everywhere, no traffic control at all, giant bats in the trees, and the constant honking of car & bike horns is almost deafening. The smog stinks, tastes bad and makes your eyes sting. Oh, beware the notorious airport porters, they relieve many unwary traveller of their dollars – including me....
This is a third world country for sure, and the poverty is all too real. The electricity works only sometimes, main roads are unmade alleyways, and do not even think about using the tap water to brush your teeth. We had seen the local butcher cutting up dodgy looking meat on his doorstep, and a fishmonger gutting enormous river carp in the dust of the street. My doctor's advice to go vegetarian was clearly a good idea. But, the people are fabulous and the Everest beer isn't bad either.
Up at 4.30am, we were treated to another chaotic ride through the city to the airport, past piles of rubbish burning on most street corners adding to the acrid dawn. Airport security includes going through a broken scanner, and being frisked by a Policeman who would not have found an elephant in a barn. The 40 minute flight to Lukla first takes us over terraced hills, and clusters of mud-brick works. We climb and skim a high pass with cliffs to one side, and Lukla airstrip swings into view. It is not exactly reassuring to see that the runway has a 1 in 10 slope, a mountain at one end and a 2,000 feet drop at the other. The landing amounted to a bump and an emergency stop. The air traffic control system is something to behold – have a look on YouTube to see what mean. youtube
Lukla is a world away from Kathmandu. The air is sweet but much thinner, and the scenery is unbelievable. The one reminder of the poverty is the massive crowd of would-be porters that hang around the airport trying to get a job with one of the trekking parties.
The trek prologue is the walk from Lukla to Namche Bazar, which takes 3 days, but it is far from dull. The route is close to the floor of the tremendous V shaped Dubh Kosi valley that is 4,000 (!) metres deep, from the river to the top of the 6,000 metre peaks on both sides. We meet cute little urchins whose only English word is 'Choclit', said with outstretched hand. We pass huge Mani stones with their hand-carved inscriptions and turn the many prayer wheels in the hope of completing the trek in one piece.
There are no roads here, and all good are transported either by trains of Zopkyo, a cross between a Yak and a buffalo, or by people. Most Zopkyos are quite docile, but some aren't, and as they all have very long sharp horns it is best to give them a wide berth. However, watching a cow climb stairs is a sight to behold.
Other goods are carried by the tiny porters with conical bamboo baskets. Their huge loads seem to exceed their body weight, and intriguingly the baskets have a flipflop stuck to the bottom. It takes a while to work it out, but we notice they each carry a T shaped stick to to rest the load on when they stop to get their breath back & the flipflop protects the bottom of the basket from damage. Oh and don't eat meat inside the National Park – the residents are vegetarian, and the porters take 3 days to carry it in, along with the flies.....
We also encounter the first of what will become a feature for the rest of the trek – the Khumbu Loo. I will try to be delicate; they are wooden sheds built on the top of stone walls, and they have a hole in the floor – and no water – and things don't compost very quickly at this altitude. I hope you get my drift.
You can't help but notice what cheery characters the Nepalese are. Two of the older guys, affectionately known as the 'Chuckle Brothers', take an interest in the arrival of a Chilean television crew who are making a travel programme. Chuckle One cannot resist a closer look and his finest 'Ello Darlin' to the Bootiful Laydee presenter is rewarded with a brilliant smile. Wonder what the Chilean TV viewers will make of this 4 foot 6 lothario?
According to the guide books getting past the police post at the entrance to the Sagarmartha National Park can take a number of hours, but our Sherpa has 'A Word' and we are whisked through in under 5 minutes. He clearly has some sway – or the money for the 'enhanced service....'
Beyond the gate the valley is now much more of a gorge, with huge sides. At times the path is along the river bed, at others it climbs the bank. We also pass a number of Japanese parties on the return leg dressed as if it was minus 10C, whilst we were soaking up the sun in T shirts – very odd.
After a final suspension bridge hundreds of feet above the river we start the long climb up Namche Hill. It is hot and dusty, but the trees provide much needed shade. About three quarters of the way up we reach a shoulder where there is a break in the trees, and get our first glimpse of Everest, peering over the Lohtze ridge. It is truly breathtaking, and it wasn't just the altitude!
At the top of the 700 metre hill is Namche Bazaar, a stunning little trading post built in a natural amphitheatre centred round a fine Stupa. Looming high over the village is the magnificent twin peaks of the Fish-tail mountain Thamserku.
Acclimatisation works if you increase altitude slowly, the golden rule is don't sleep more than 300 metres higher than the night before. Going higher and then coming back down also helps. The 700 metre climb to Namche meant that we needed to spend two nights there before going higher still. At this height taking Diamox helps as it increases the blood flow, and in doing so gets rid of carbonate that builds up due to the lack of oxygen, but you also have to drink a lot of water to continuously flush out your system. Alcohol on the other hand tends to dehydrate, and is therefore not a good idea.
The other main medical problem has already started to affect members of the team – the Khumbu Quickstep. Unfortunately the dust does contain poorly composted Yak dung – and worse. So despite two armfuls of injections, the rugby ball size Ciprofloxacin antibiotics will inevitably be used by all.
Onto brighter things. During our extra day at Namche, I went wandering round the village and met the head monk at the village monastery. I have never met a man so at ease with the world, and so willing to pass the time with an interested tourist like me. We went into the monastery which was extraordinary, so peaceful and so beautifully ornate. It was a real privilege to be allowed to enter.
Also well worth a visit is the Sherpa museum. There we found that our Sherpa is on the wall of fame having summited Everest. In fact on a second occasion he got to within 50 metres (!) of the summit but had to turn back because his Japanese client was in difficulties. I gather that 50 metres takes an hour.
For those who want to send a last email back home, Namche even has Internet access.
Day 7 took us out of Namche, hard work at first up a steep climb to the ridge line above, before contouring round the hill to a small Stupa. The view from that point is quite something – Everest, Lhotze, Nuptze, Ama Dablam, Taboche and Thamserku in one astonishing panorama.
We cross the 4,000 metre line for the first time and it is clear there is almost no vegetation, just sparse grass and moss. Lammergeyer and Himalayan Vultures circle above us, and the way we are feeling, they won't have long to wait.... We camp near a tiny farm with its small plot for the Yak, surrounded by spiky peaks. As the sun sets the temperature plummets, and we cluster together clad in duvet jackets in our communal tent for dinner loaded with carbs.
The constant drinking, along with the diuretic effects of Diamox, means that getting up in the middle of the night with a full bladder is inevitable but what an excuse to see the most incredible night sky you will ever see. The stars are so bright, and so numerous that the sky is just alive with light, and it is framed by the jagged silhouette of the world's highest mountains. You simply must see this at least once!
My journal entry for the next day says it all. 'Dear diary. Today is the day it started to go horribly wrong...' Several of the gang were suffering from serious vomiting and diarrhoea. Two were really struggling, one looking like he was living a bad dream. We only had a short distance to go to the yak herder settlement of Machermo, which worryingly was also the scene of a famous Yeti attack when 3 yak were taken. Not sure how much protection a tent provides against a Yeti attack.... After lunch we started the afternoon acclimatisation walk up the ridge overlooking Machermo Valley to get our first clear views of the Ngozumpa Glacier which leads all the way to the slopes of Cho Oyu, the world's 8th Highest mountain. The glacier is not ice white, it has a coating of grey rubble. These mountains may be still growing but they are also crumbling.
Suddenly my head swam, I needed to sit down. Now here's a Health & Safety tip for you – if you are feeling wobbly don't try to sit on a rock on the edge of a ridge. Apparently I went over the edge and fell 15 feet. I can vaguely remember my head hitting the floor. I was taken back to camp, just in time for things to get very messy – I'll spare you the details.
Six out of the nine of us were now in a state, so we had an enforced rest day. Time to start the crash course of Ciprofloxacin and Immodium, it is drastic and you feel like you have been turned inside out, but it does work. Not much sleep that night, but with a night sky filled with hundreds of thousands of stars, who cares!
The following day was much better, I could eat and walk again. Fortunately so could the rest of the team, though the levels of recovery varied. The route climbed slowly at first, but then steeply up the terminal moraine of the Ngozumpa Glacier and on to the first of the Gokyo lakes. This was a notable moment, we were now higher than the highest point in the Alps. Onwards and upwards to the second lake, which was still almost entirely covered in ice. We followed the side wall of the glacier to the third and largest of the Gokyo lakes, and to the tiny settlement of Gokyo, jammed between the lake and the side of the glacier.
This lake too is still mainly covered in winter ice, not surprising in April at 5,000 metres. After re-vitalising noodly soup we take a trip to the top of the glacial moraine, basically a massive gravel bank forced upwards by the pressure of the ice. The Ngozumpa Glacier is the biggest in the region and the view along its length all the way to Cho Oyu is magnificent. Later we rested in a Tea House, and I got chatting to a young English Doctor who had come to the Himalayas to learn about mountain medicine, and was due to start the journey back to the UK tomorrow. Our meeting was fortunate as he was able to provide some of the team with extra antibiotics.
The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted my favourite piece of kit is my Rab Summit sleeping bag, and that is because it kept me comfortable when it was minus Goodness-knows-what outside the tent! Around midnight I was woken by a crash, thought it must be a rock fall, but it was followed by a bright flash and another crash – a thunder storm. After about 45 minutes of this, I thought I might as well get up for a wee – only to discover it is snowing heavily. I don't normally associate thunderstorms with snow, but at this altitude it was obvious really. We were woken again at 4am with tea, and we get togged up in our warmest gear to climb to the 700 metres to the top of Gokyo Ri. Our torch light procession winds its weary way upwards under a crystal clear but moonless sky. The stars, oh you just have to see the stars! As we reach the summit at 5360 metres we are treated with the sun's first rays shining through the faint clouds forming an orange red corona around the summit of the world's highest mountain. As the day dawns the view just leaves us lost for words. Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotze and Makalu, four out of 14 of the 8,000 metre peaks plus a myriad lesser peaks all laid out before us. This is truly one of the great views of the world, it is quite simply stunning.
Our Sherpa and his dad - Pops as he is affectionately known to us - lay new strings of prayer flags and chant a number of prays as homage to these mountains. Pops is a Buddhist priest and is such a wonderful chap - so chilled.
All too soon we had to go, we need to cross the glacier to reach the start point for a big day tomorrow. Crossing the glacier is complicated; the lateral moraines are steep and loose and the glacier surface is covered with dips, rises, pools of standing water and large holes. The rubble covering is only inches thick, and underneath the ice is slowly moving. We are very tired by the time we get to Dragnak, but are revived by Chef's excellent Noodly soup and plenty of hot lemon.
Early to bed, at the bottom of the Cho La, and its absolutely freezing outside.
Another overnight thunderstorm brought more fresh snow that covered the tents. There was a great sense of anticipation as today was a big day, the crossing of the Cho La pass. We set off up a shallow snow covered valley, the ascent steady and even. After a couple of hours we reached a flat area that gave us a clear view of the final steep section leading to the notch of the Cho La in the high jagged ridge. The good doctor has joined us, he didn't fancy taking on the pass on his own. We clamber steeply over slippery snow covered rocks and scree, all of us breathing hard, hardly surprising as we are more than 17,000 feet up. The sense of achievement we all felt when we topped out was palpable, and it was smiles all round as we tucked into our packed lunch of boiled eggs and kitkat.
The way down crossed a high glacier, with easy walking over the hard ice.
Then began a steep rocky descent into the Dzongla valley surrounded by massive mountain spikes, the centre piece being the awesome vertical face of Cholatze. Apparently it has been climbed – but not often.
We finally arrive at our campsite – what a place! I wrap up warm and plonk myself on a rock for a good hour, just looking. What a day, quite simply my finest day in the mountains anywhere.
After an outdoor breakfast in the shadow of Cholatze, we decend to join the main trekking path to Everest near the end of the Khumbu Glacier that leads all the way to Everest itself. Its cold with occasional snow showers as we pitch up in Lobuche. It is here that we appreciate how cut off we have been. We get just 3 pieces news of from the outside world:- the Polish President has been killed in a plane crash; Chelsea beat Manchester United (oh yes!), and some volcano with an unpronounceable name has erupted in Iceland.....
Further up the valley is Everest Base Camp. In a way it is just a collection of tents on a glacier but it is also the jumping off point for a far greater adventure than ours, one where 1 in 10 die in the attempt.
Across the valley we can make out climbers on the fearsome Khumbu Icefall, this giant unstable ice cataract that has claimed so many climber's lives. 1 in 10 Everest itself looms large, a black pyramid rising a further 11,000 feet above us.
Another early start the following morning saw us climbing Kalar Pattar by headtorch. This was the highest point on our trek, 5555 metres above sea level on the opposite side of the valley from Everest, and immediately below the beautiful peak of Pumo Ri. Watching the sun rise from behind the world's highest mountain was sublime, something I won't ever forget.
The walk back to Lukla may have been a bit of a sprint, but we still had time to take in the Italian Pyramid climate research centre; the magnificent monastery at Tengboche; and the unspoilt Sherpa village of Khumjung where the monastery keeps its highly prized Yeti skull (red hair and very pointy!).
Leaving Lukla was surprisingly emotional, as we said goodbye to the team of porters that had become good friends and had served us so well. Taking off from Lukla is also quite an experience, and the closest I will ever come to flying from an aircraft carrier. The twin engines of the Dornier are revved to the maximum, the whole plane shaking as it is held on the brakes, and then the pilot lets it go. We hurtle down the slope and just get airborne as the ground goes over the cliff. Alton Towers has nothing on this ride!
So what is there left to do before you fly home? You could try:-
- visiting the World Heritage sites of Durbar Square, the Golden Buddha and the amazing Boudha Stupa – a real haven of peace amongst the chaos of Kathmandu
- experiencing Nepalese pop music, and even more weird, Nepalese dancing to Nepalese pop music
- watching the armed troops line the streets so the President can go to work (and you thought our lot were unpopular!)
- buying Nepalese tea – it really is amongst the very best in the world
- get a Thanka
- a Rickshaw race through the streets of Kathmandu!
But you must make sure you leave your footprint on the wall of the Rumdoodle Bar!
As a footnote, the Icelandic volcano nearly forced an extended stay but all that whirling of prayer wheels must have worked, as the flights home started again on the day we were due to leave.
They say some experiences are life changing – this month long trip was just that. If you get the chance, grab it, do it.
by Johnny Corbett » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:07 pm
>>MODERATOR<< deleted duplicate post
by ChrisW » Sun Mar 04, 2012 4:36 pm
by SMRussell » Sun Mar 04, 2012 4:54 pm
Trip of a life time sounds most apt
by blueyed » Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:36 pm
by mountainstar » Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:37 pm
by 147cjl » Sun Mar 04, 2012 6:14 pm
by mamoset » Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:42 pm
by KeithS » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:12 pm
I have just got in from work and have been looking forward to reading this report all day.
I have not yet peeped at it.
I have opened a bottle of wine.
I have opened a box of Thornton's chocolates.
I am not working for the next four days.
I trust you will not disappoint me Clive.
by gailroy » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:26 pm
We are also doing a blog leading up to Oct, covering our training in the Scottish mountains and will blog while in Nepal.
by clivegrif » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:51 pm
It took a while to condense a month into a few pages, and the limit of 25 pic per post proved a challenge as I only took 1300 while I was over there.....
Would recommend the Cicerone book - Everest - A Trekkers Guide to anyone who is thinking of going.
Also if anyone is going - like gailroy - drop me a line or stick a post on here, there is a lot of other stuff I can pass on that I didn't have room for.
Thanks once again for reading!
by KeithS » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:55 pm
What can I say? Absolutely stunning! It is sometimes difficult to find the words to describe experiences like this. Maybe I enjoyed (understatement) your report all the more having also trekked in Nepal and visited some of the places and seen some of the wonders you have seen. You are so right. Nepal, Kathmandu, Namche Bazaar, Thengboche, the Sherpas, the air, the sense of peace, the beauty, the mountains, the rivers, the bridges(!) everything about the place gets to your very heart in a way which cannot be described, although you make a very good effort with both your words and your pictures. I was truly moved to read your report (you certainly did not disappoint), it took me back to my trip. I didn't get as far into the mountains as you did, although I did get to about 4000m, and we only trekked for nine days so I had a fraction of your experiences, but even that was life changing. One day I might get to show you my pictures.
Well done and thank you so much for sharing. Stunning, stunning, stunning.
by Lackadaisy » Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:12 am
by johnkaysleftleg » Mon Mar 05, 2012 12:07 pm
by Mountainlove » Mon Mar 05, 2012 3:10 pm
Regarding Kathmandu being so loud and noisy...its maybe hard to believe but India is 10x worse....Kathamdu felt like a quiet eden in comparison
If you are looking to upload all your photos...one of the slideshow softwares works best...I did that with mine (you will probably remember the song- they played it everywhere in Kathmandu)