Day 8: Dingboche to Lobuche – 16,210 feet

Once again woke to beautiful sunshine, but the coldest yet. We REALLY did not want to get out of our sleeping bags. Slept well last night and even managed to make it to 6am before hot footing it down the hall to the ice cube bathroom. So cold that the water pipe to the sink froze and it was 1.5 hours before I could do the simple task of a face wash. We’ve also now entered the portion of the trip where toilets are just holes in the floor, although plumbed and flushable (so far). Let’s just say that thigh strength is important.

Main task of morning was deciding where to head today. Original plan would take us to Kongma La Pass, and if we found it impassable as it was yesterday (unexpected late season snow had it waist deep and 70 mph winds), we had a two day backtrack we’d have to do. We decided for safety and logistics to not go there. Instead we headed directly to Lobuche, gateway to Everest Base Camp. Tomorrow, weather providing, we will be there and at the foot of the famous Khumbu Ice Fall and their constantly shifting ciracs. Many an Everest climber and porter has died there by falling into a crevasse or buried by tons of collapsing ice. We won’t be in the danger part as that higher section requires ropes and true mountaineering.

But back to today. Headed more or less straight up the side of a mountain, but then across a meandering flat with some downs. We hate the downs because it only means more up later. As we looked down on the town where we had just stayed someone was being evacuated by helicopter. At halfway point to Lobuche we came across views to die for. As an aside, it is really hard to decide what to take a picture of as it is all spectacular. Movies simply do not do this place justice. All around us are probably a dozen mountains over 13,000 feet. The big one today we saw was Pumori which is over 23,500 feet.

After lunch, and engaging 4 young men just out of the Israeli Army, it was a killer straight up. I judge the difficulty by how many draws from my drinking tube connected to my water bladder I can muster before just avoiding passing out and having to gasp for air. I usually can do 4-5, but on this bad ass climb I was down to 2, maybe 3. But we were rewarded by an awesome view on top, as well as the high Himalaya cemetery to those who lost their lives on nearby mountains, most commonly Everest. As I understand it, for the most part, no bodies are here, often because they could not be recovered and still reside on the mountain or a deep crevasse. Many Sherpa are honored here, including one who summited Everest 11 times. Can’t possibly imagine how he did that. Scott Fischer, the founder of Mountain Madness (outfit Amy and I used to summit Kilimanjaro in Sept 2017), is memorialized here. He played a prominent role in Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air (a must read for understanding the psychology of high altitude mountaineering). Scott died on the mountain in that 1996 disaster with a number of others. He also has a plaque on Kilimanjaro we saw on that climb; he put in a new route there that enabled more people to summit via better acclimatization.

Final slog to Lobuche was modest incline up and then right there, roughly 6 hours after we started, was Lobuche. This is our second highest overnight elevation to sleep (tomorrow night we sleep at Gorakshep, elevation 1659) although we will be hiking higher to basecamp, and even higher over the two passes to come. The place is little more than guest houses, yaks, and many Sherpa strolling around, cleaning their clothes in water that I highly wonder about its cleanliness, and enjoying visiting with each other. The Sherpa are a wonderfully positive and outgoing people and it has been a joy to engage them, even with limited English. Their children are also incredibly cute and seem completely unfazed by the cold.

At this elevation, the body suffering is more pronounced. I’ve had a modest, but steady headache most of this afternoon. Sleeping also becomes more fitful. We’ll see how tonight goes. Our guide tested our pulse and body oxygen levels via a finger cuff last night and Amy and I are both in the safe range. Experience tells me it will progressively drop as we go higher though. We both take Diamox, a diuretic that among other things reduces the effect of high altitude sickness. Amy is experiencing some nausea, but the drugs she has seems to be helping some and she’s forcing herself to eat gorp and other high energy snacks. She is an inspiration with her drive and fortitude. Both of us though are looking forward to our last night stay and recovery at the Hyatt in Katmandu 9 days hence.

Will be going to bed early as we need to be on trail by around 7am.

Day 7: Tengboche to Dingboche – 14,300 feet

Woke to beautiful dawn of sunshine, opened our blinds, and to both sides, snow covered mountains surrounded us. We had no idea what to expect given fog of day before. One of the directions was Lhotse and Everest, looming ever closer. Pinching ourselves, are we really here? Breakfast of Tibetan toast which looked and tasted much like a beignet and was delicious. Enjoyed a cup of black tea as well. Tea is a core bev here (good for settling the stomach too I’m told) and I think I’ve tried 6 different kinds, although I am less partial to the kind you have to chew that have things floating in it for the flavor.

On route by 8am for 5.5 hours of climbing, the initial part with crampons due to the fresh snow. Total elevation gain to destination – 1,640 feet. At these heights, much more common to see yaks. Despite the height and short growing season, farming small plots is common everywhere and apparently by May, everything is lush and green.

Many folks trek and we’ve enjoyed seeing, and hearing, people and languages from a wide array of countries. Japan seems to be the biggest, but many European countries present as well such as France, Germany, the UK, Hungary, and Poland. Americans are here too as are Aussies. Everybody cheerful and most willing to chat. We met a particularly congenial older fellow from South Korea here on his own. He was taking it slow and noted that his guide relayed that a group went through the other day too fast and one was evacuated. “Pole pole” they say in Swahili and“bustari bustari” in Nepalese that both mean slowly slowly. That’s what we are doing. It’s not a race and besides, the views are too amazing to not linger over.

Our general routine is to stop for lunch at a tea house somewhere between 11am and 1pm. We’ve been on the trail for 5 days now and the menus are remarkably similar. Although I’ve generally enjoyed my meals, today’s Sherpa vegetable stew was particularly tasty. I imagine a tasty hamburger in the LA airport on return will be relished however. Although meat is available here, since it has to come in via porter or animal back over a period of days, we’ve been warned not to eat it for lack of adequate refrigeration for so long. I’m eating protein energy bars which helps though.

One section of today’s route this afternoon had a few rockfalls and as it turned out, a few small boulders shot across the trail about 50 feet in front of us. We were encouraged to step lively there and we sure did. Once more, the views were incredible. By now Everest, Lohtse, and Nuptse were socked in at the tops, but our views of Ama Dablam were to die for. How anyone climbs that tall and nearly vertical face I have no idea, but apparently it is popular to do in the fall.

Tea and cookies about 5pm is our normal routine followed by dinner around 6 or 6:30pm. The only time they fire up the stove (so far with wood but higher up will be yak dung) is around that time and folks hover close. Amy and I are finding the only true warm place is inside our -10F sleeping bags with a silk liner and layers of sleeping clothes as well. The crusher is when you need to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night… I wish I were born a camel 😊. Our current tea house communal bathroom (the norm) is just a hole in the floor with a bucket of water to ladle in as the flush. No hot water here so we go without showers until we are back in Namche 8 days hence.

Oddly, we get more hours of “sleep” here than at home. Typically in bed by about 8:30ish and up by 6am. Naps in the afternoon are also something we do when we can to restore energy. I put the word “sleep” in quotes as it can be a fitful one. Last night the Tengboche dogs had an on and off again chorus that sounded something right from 101 Dalmatians. Not sure who their Cruella De Vil is, but we thought they must have spotted the Yeti and were spreading the alarm. The walls are also paper thin so you hear your neighbors cough quite well. So far I’ve been fine, although as I write this, I have a modest headache, but aspirin kicking in.

This evening we heard that there is heavy snow in Kongma Pass, the first of three high passes planned for our climb. A group staying in our tea house had to turn back due to snow waist deep and high winds. Pondering implications now but it may mean being able to go to Everest Base Camp instead and still doing the other two passes. All hinges on weather. Stay tuned.

Day 6: Namche to Tengboche – 12,660 feet

Woke to snow overnight and kept snowing until about 8:30am. Hadn’t expected that at this “lower elevation”. Waited until it stopped, mainly to enable us and the porter to have good footing for what proved to be big ups and downs. A bit depressing to have ANY downs because in a few days more we will be at our highest, the first of three passes, this one named Kongma La at 18,159.

Today was clear for a few hours this morning, but low clouds rolled in late morning and couldn’t see the monstrous mountains surrounding us. Did observe helicopters coming and going up and down the valley, probably every 15 minutes. Sadly majority are wealthy tourists who chose to “experience” the Himalaya this way, or some who hiked to basecamp and were too tired to walk out. But still others were involved in emergency evacs. So far we continue to feel strong with no stomach upset, but we have the meds if we do. I confess that I am starting to tire of the nearly identical breakfast/lunch/dinner menus – mostly starch and little or no meat (reminder – animals we tend to eat in the states such as beef are sacred here). But I did have some very good French toast this morning. I suspect I won’t be eating rice or having curry for a while when I return to the states.

Arrived Temboche (climb of 1,380 vertical feet) and home of another famous Sherpa, Dawn Tenzing, a chief logistics Sherpa on many expeditions to Everest including the 1953 first summit. His grandson runs the tea house where we are staying. Out our window are two unusual sights. First, the Buddhist Monastery. As we were changing into dry clothes, we realized they had a birds eye view into our room. I hope we didn’t disturb their meditation 😊. Out the other window was a group of about two dozen Nepalese military Gurkhas complete with full camo and rifles slung at the ready. Gurkhas, if you know your history, are one of the most famous forces in the world and historically struck great fear in their enemies with their signature knives. While touring the historic monastery, they were there too. We introduced ourselves and their lieutenant warmly welcomed us to take a picture with them. Since they were on a secret mission of some sort, he asked us not to post to social media so we will honor that. As we parted, he said if we had any need of evac, to call him. They apparently are first responders to emergencies. Not planning to call…

Dipping quite cold this evening and many hovered around stove that seems to put out little heat. Tomorrow I will relay how the sleep was in unheated rooms. Just praying to make it through the night w/o need for the communal bathroom…

PS – Finally able to post pics with sufficient internet.

Day 5: Namche

Today was a “rest” day. I put that in quotes because the morning involved a day hike straight up for about 1100 feet to an amazing view of Everest and Lhotse, the 1st and 4th highest mountains in the world. I keep pinching myself in amazement that I am here. It is also killing me that the WiFi is not strong enough to send pictures of what I’m seeing. If/as I can, I will post to pictures section of blog.

We also visited the national park museum and the Tensing Norgay monument dedicated to the most well known and revered Sherpa in the world. He was with Edmund Hillary for the first summit of Everest in 1953. FYI – they also have a monument in town to the most famous female Sherpa, Pemba Doma, who was the first Nepalese woman to summit Everest via the extraordinarily challenging north face. She also led the Nepalese Women’s Expedition of Everest in 2002. She tragically died on Lhotse in a fall in 2007.

For the remainder of the day we explored Namche and picked up gifts which we can blessedly leave here and pick up on return from the circuit that links back up here.

Two other things about which I want to offer reflections. First, our guide. His name is Asis Gurung and comes originally from rural Nepal, the son of farmers. He has no education beyond high school but worked hard to create opportunities for himself, first as a porter, then an asst guide, and then guide for around 15 years. Guiding is a tough life but he does it in part to enable his daughters to attend college. We’ve talked about college a lot on our climb, what he knows about it and what he does not. In many ways he represents the realities for first gen students and their families, and much more than the financial issues of college attendance. The importance of wrap around support is a universal one and certainly not limited to the US.

The second thing I wanted to relay was having met Anthony McLaren today. He’s prepping to summit Everest on May 15 w/o bottled oxygen if he can. Where Amy and I slogged up the trail today, he ran it. We took a pic with him and let me say, there is no fat on that man! He’s on a quest to complete the 7 Summits to raise funds for Parkinson’s, a disease that took his father a few years ago. After Everest, all he has is Mt Vinson in Antarctica, planned for November. I thought I was motivated by challenge, but pale by comparison. He was an inspiration to talk to. We pray he is successful.

Day 4: Phakding to Namche Bazaar – 11,280 ft

Steeling ourselves for 2,580 of vertical climb this day, we forced ourselves to stay up to 9:30pm last night in hopes of kicking the last vestiges of jet lag and get a good night’s sleep. Room was chilly ( no heat as you will recall) but comparatively balmy to what we know is ahead. Had a great toasty warm sleep in my sub zero bag. Up at 5:30am for eggs, hash browns, toast, and coffee for breakfast. On trail by 8am. Notably steeper this section but fantastic views of glacier fed Dudh Koshi River below and passed many small communities with smiling children seemingly everywhere. One observation is that some trekkers are, shall we say, enjoying more pampering than others, and I imagine they are paying a premium for it. Had our first experiences crossing suspension bridges high above the river. Very nerve wracking given narrowness, and despite steel construction, still bounce and sway. So glad we weren’t trying to cross while a mule or pony train came the other direction!

So, a piece of trivia for you. Did you know this region, inclusive of Everest, is part of a national park? Sagarmatha National Park. I had no idea. It was established in 1976 and named a World Heritage Site in 1979. The name is also the Nepalese name for Everest. Another name for the mountain is Chomolungma (what Tibetans call it). Everest as a name came in 1865, from the British surveyor of India who actually objected to his name for the mountain. Nepalese and Tibetans from this region of course knew of it way before the British did.

After about an hour’s climb in the park, we rested at a rest stop and our guide matter-of-factly said, “Look there. That’s the summit of Everest.” Be still the heart. The moment had arrived. Even though it was about 20 miles distant (as the crow flies), and partially obscured by clouds, it was still an emotive moment. Despite being roughly 18,000 feet below its summit, it was still observable from that distance despite other very tall mountains around it. Can’t wait to see it from much closer up and its sister mountains in the top 5 in the world.

After about 6.5 hours of climbing, we reached Namche Bazaar, the capital of the Sherpa region. This too brought emotive feelings as this community is the true gateway to the high Himalaya and famous for its providing of Sherpa porters and guides. We have a rest day tomorrow and will explore. Will share more on Namche tomorrow. But will close with an interesting room assignment for us in tonight’s tea house. The rooms are named for famous alpinists, and ours is the Sir Edmund Hillary Room. Not only was he the first to summit Everest with Tenzing Norgay (who also has a room named for him) he also did much over the years to help the Sherpa people, including building and supporting schools and the airport in Lukla.

Day 3: Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding

Hello from 8,700 feet, up from 4,264 in Kathmandu! Quite the adventurous day. Woke at 5:30am (actually was awake with mind racing at 3am, partly from anticipation, likely also from vestiges of jet lag and side effects of malaria pills). Quick breakfast and on way to airport by 7am. Amy and I failed to get our gear weights under 33 pounds each, so loaded up our down jacket with everything heavy, especially Cliff Bars and Gatorade Protein Bars that surprisingly are quite heavy. Nothing like waddling around like the marshmallow man sweating in 60 degree morning temps!

Airport check in was, to put it mildly, barely organized chaos. Somehow we got through security no problem despite bulging pockets they never made us unload and barely a pat down with acceptance of a weak explanation that the bulges were all food. Once inside the terminal, our guide beckoned us to follow him in cutting through a back way to our airline desk where he sweet talked the Tara Air attendant to allow us on despite being 3 kilosish each over in gear weight (not counting the 3ish kilos each bulging from every coat oriface). Good golly… just hoping we don’t pop the plane tires following the requisite hard landing that happens at Lukla. However, luck should be on our side when we observed the gate agent kiss the tickets of all passengers. Wow. Love the Nepalese. Plane, however, left one with the distinct impression that Tensing and Sir Edmond flew on this plane in the 1950s… but the shock absorbers anyway looked massive and newish.

Once airborne, and past the urban sprawl of Kathmandu, one quickly sees why agriculture is the country’s largest industry. Hillside stepped farming seems to be everywhere, with villages dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. Suddenly the massive Himalaya comes into view. What an extraordinary sight. White and dare I say massive (a huge understatement) mountains, each apparently with their own weather patterns, are everywhere on the horizon, looming larger by the minute as we seem to barely fly high enough to go over the foothills (each probably a few thousand feet high themselves). Suddenly the airport looms ahead and wham, we are down, stopping a mere hundred feet or so before the cliff wall.

Prying my fingers from the seat in front, we disembark through a crowd of about 40 porters fishing for employment. Our guide found our porter and we settled

In to do some repacking, have a cup of lemon tea, and then set off after pics at trailhead. Jom jom (let’s go) as they say in Nepalese.

The trail heads up the Khumbu Valley, home to many isolated towns and villages. The glacial green river, hundreds of feet below, has its source in the Everest area, a view we have not yet had. But oh what views we have seen! This first “modest” 8K, 3.5 hour acclimation climb takes us up and down sections of the valley, passing and being passed by mule and pony trains (yaks service the higher terrain) and numerous porters carrying what seem superhuman loads on their heads. We also pass trekkers of all sizes and nationalities coming down the trail, and porter teams as well, many coming from Everest Basecamp. This is the season when expeditions are positioning requisite equipment up and down the mountain for summit attempts in May. Today’s beautifully sunny and mild temps (low 60s) made the first leg of the climb pleasurable, particularly with towering snow peaked mountains in view at elevations higher than nearly all in the continental US.

Staying the night in a typical Nepalese tea house. To characterize it as a B&B would not be fair as sleeping quarters are not heated and there is no hot water (although we do have a bathroom in our room, a Taj Mahal compared to what’s coming higher up with more, shall we say, communal “facility accommodations”. They feed us dinner and breakfast with only a wood stove for heat in dining hall (stoves heated with yak dung above tree line). Had an actually quite good version of pizza Nepalese.

Good night for now. Will try to post pics too although WiFi is sketchy here.

Day 2 close

Had an extraordinary day touring 4 Kathmandu UNESCO World Heritage sites with a guide. They include Durbar Square, The Monkey Temple, Bauddhanath, and Pashupatinath with its Crematorium. All are sacred to Hindus and/or Buddhists and have numerous small and large temples on the grounds. Some date as far back as the 12th Century. Sadly, the earthquake of 2015 badly damaged many of them, and some are still in the process of being rebuilt, helpfully supported by a number of nations, including the USA. The carvings and symbols are exquisite and places of peace and hope for the potential of humankind to do good and overcome evil. Certainly our world could use more of that right now.

Animals roam free here (actually all over the city and country) with pigeons and monkeys especially prevalent. Cows are for sure the most sacred and seem to be completely oblivious to crazy traffic, wandering where they please. Woe is the one who hits a cow with their car!

The crematorium was probably one of the most unique cultural experience I’ve ever had, and certainly a window into Hinduism and Buddhism. It is located on a sacred river for Nepalese that flows into the Ganges. All along the banks on the grounds are brick funeral pyre platforms where families bring their dead. First they wash the freshly dead body (brought to the site within a few hours of death) with the river water, drape it with colorful cloth, carry it to a prepared burn site, place it on the wood pile, drape it with straw, and then set it alight. When we were there we observed two bodies being prepared and probably 10 funeral pyres burning. When the fire burns out, the ashes are swept into the river and washed away. One truly has a humbling perspective on the circle of life seeing this important ritual for Hindu and Buddhist people.

This evening we had dinner with our guide at a traditional Nepalese restaurant. The food was delicious with a variety of vegetable and meat (chicken and fish, no beef) and dancers to boot performing traditional dances. Returned to the hotel to finish repacking and still working on losing a few pounds here and there. So hard to decide what to leave behind and don’t want to short pharmaceuticals in case they are needed! Praying all will be ok tomorrow even if slightly over weight limit for gear. Departure from hotel at 7am.

Good night friends and talk to you tomorrow evening on the adventure of landing at Lukla and the first leg of the climb that afternoon.

PS- Pics from today posted to photos link on blog. Anticipate pics each time I write on the blog (assuming connectivity and band width enables when I am able to post).

Day 2: Kathmandu

Nomaste (good morning in (Nepalese)! Arrived Kathmandu yesterday at 12:15pm, 27 hours and three flights since Boston (9.75 hours ahead here vs East coast and yes, they have time zones that aren’t even 1 hour increments). Thrilled to finally be here, on literally the other side of the globe. Guide picked us up at airport and got us checked in at hotel. First order of business later in afternoon was a gear check by guide and visit to Himalaya Glacier firm office for trip and safety briefing. Fortunately we had what we needed, but higher than expected snow in the passed means we also need crampons. Purchased those at one of the many climbing shops in area. Also bought a recommended silk sleeping bag liner for extra warmth. The bag they provide is a -22 degree F bag… and they still recommend more warmth with a liner? Gulp. Also got their provided down jacket. Massively thick; feel like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Also learned that there is a gear weight limit of 33 pounds for flight to Lukla, the actual jump off point for the route. We were under the impression that we had a higher limit so Amy and I are today figuring out what we really need vs. like to have. Lukla Airport is a hairy landing and takeoff in a turboprop and a very short runway so weight is important. More on that AFTER we experience it but there are some interesting YouTube videos on landings and takeoffs if you wished to have a feel.

Today touring heritage sights in Kathmandu, a sprawling city of 5 million people. Dusty city and not sure they have any logic for traffic patterns but somehow cars, motorbikes, and people don’t seem to collide. All part of the adventure!

PS – I will aim to add pictures each day I post. You can find them under the photos link.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! Click on the above links to learn more about my trip and why I do this. I will be posting here as I can during the experience (3/21-4/6), and for sure shortly after return to Kathmandu.  Dhērai āśiṣharū!   -Josh

Good company on a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton