aka ‘Marks Third Walk in Nepal’
Entry number 19 15th February 2009 (flight to Lukla and walk to Pakding)
Started my longest trek this morning with a nice 5.15am wake up call and a salute from our security guard as I left for the airport (why don’t we still salute in the UK??). Arrived at the airport by 6am for a 6.15am flight but this is a mountain flight and they never take off on time and so a 15 minute ‘check-in’ is perfectly normal. We had luck on our side today and we were lining up on the runway by 9am (I guy who was on our flight had to come to the airport twelve consecutive days on the trot last November before his flight finally took off!) and after 25 minutes we could see our approach into Lukla airport. This has to be one of the most thrilling landings ever; the run way isn’t very long and further more slopes upwards. This is to help incoming flights slow down quicker but it also gives outgoing flights an added bit of acceleration when they take off as well. You almost forget you are surrounded by mountains as you come in as all your concentration is aimed at willing the flight to land safely! Once down, you and your bags are off-loaded with great speed and efficiency (not common practices in Nepal) and the next load of passengers and their bags are put on and it is off again; all this in a turnaround of about 10 minutes and without even turning the engines off. The walk today was pretty boring and very easy. Acclimatization in the Everest region is essential and for the first couple of days you only walk about 3 to 4 hours a day and today we didn’t even climb up, in fact we went down slightly.
Entry number 20 16th February 2009 (walk from Pakding to Namche Bazar)
Had an excellent chicken curry and dhal last night and listened to Dad’s Army on my iPod (I have purchased some audio books; The Two Ronnie’s, Steptoe and Son, Around the Horne and Dad’s Army) but fell asleep after about 15 minutes, not because it wasn’t funny but simply because I was knackered! My new Sherpa, Naryn seems very nice. He is from the Everest region and although his English is not as good as Nabin’s, he certainly knows his region and is very keen to impress (unlike the last one, who was too young and inexperienced and was of little benefit along the way). Pretty straight forward walk today, nothing too challenging. Namche itself is the district headquarters and therefore has some very nice places to stay. We arrived about 3pm and as we are here for two nights, I did some washing; not a very interesting day really so I would skip to the next one.
Entry number 21 17th February 2009 (acclimatization day at Namche Bazar)
Actually something did come up yesterday which I forgot to mention. Met a couple of older Israelis and was talking about this and that and I mentioned my Grandad got his British Empire Medal for something he did in the King David Hotel when it was blown up by the Israelis back in the late 40s. Bit later along the trail the older guy came up to me and said he was sorry on behalf of his nation; I can only assume he thought Grandad was killed during the blast. I didn’t think to correct him and just accepted his apology!
You don’t sit on your backside and do nothing when you have an acclimatization day in the mountains. Instead you take a day excursion that lasts in the region of 4 to 5 hours and get used to the altitude. I was looking forward to a day off but the walk we did was excellent. We went up to the ridge above Namche and got our first view of Everest plus some of the other big peaks that surround it. We then walked to a village called Khumjung where Sir Edmond Hillary did a lot of good work including the funding and building of the school and then it was back to Namche for about 2pm.
Debate of the day; who got to the top first then, Hillary or Norgay? Although it was a British expedition, the choice is between a New Zealander and a Nepali so quite frankly I don’t care but everyone seems to be very diplomatic in their answer and in fact don’t actually end up answering you. I throw a spanner into the works and say it was 100% George Mallory at made it to the top first!
Entry number 22 18th February 2009 (walk from Namche to Pangboche)
Walked for about 5 hours today and for most of the day had pretty great views. The main mountain that dominates the terrain today is Ama Dablam. This a lovely looking mountain and although it is ‘only’ 6812m in height, it is technically one of the most difficult climbs in Nepal as you actually have to ascend up and under a ridge and so not too many attempts have been successful.
We had a bit of luxury this evening as we spent the night in a $100/night lodge. It didn’t have any running water as the pipes were frozen but we did get electric blankets! Gautam warned me not too sleep with it on all night as I would end up with dry skin but naturally ignored him and had a very toasty night!
We also managed to persuade the staff to allow our porters to stay in the lodge. Normally porters aren’t allowed to sleep inside as they ‘stink’ (their words not mine) but we managed to convince them that we had clean porters that they did keep themselves and their clothes clean (which is true, they do) and so they made an exception to the rule and even gave them a deal on a Dhal Bhat. I had a nice meal myself, wrote the above and then my computer packed in for the rest of the trek!
Entry number 23 19th February 2009 (walk from Pangboche to Periche)
Headed further up the valley today, crossing our first pass, a reasonably easy one at 4270m. Today a freezing cold wind started to kick up, coming north from Tibet and we pretty much had this attacking us for the rest of the trek. When we arrived in Periche I did a bit of washing; the water was so cold that Santosh had to come and help me finish off and after 10 minutes on the line, everything had frozen and so I had to bring it inside to let it defrost. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and acclimatizing with just a short walk in the late afternoon to a nearby view-point. The sunset over the mountains was spectacular so I kept running in and out of the bitter wind in order to take a few photos. Had a Yak steak with roast potatoes and vegetables for dinner this evening and I tell you the roast potatoes were done to perfection and the steak not too bad either!
Entry number 24 20th February 2009 (walk from Periche to Dingboche and excursion to Chhukhung)
I must praise my sleeping bag at this point. Last night it was bitterly cold outside (and inside the lodge come to think of it) but my new bag is so warm inside and nice and spacious as well and I had no issues apart from the usual one around 3pm or so; do I get up and go for a pee or do I try to fall back asleep and hope the feeling goes away! After breakfast we walked the short distance to Dingboche, dropped our bags and then headed up to Chhukhung, a superb place where you get great views of Lhotse and Nuptse (plus bashful, sleepy, dopey etc) as well as Island Peak and the Lhotse Shar glacier that dominates the whole area. This walk also helped us with our acclimatization as you sleep at 4270m and head up to 4730m at Chhukhung. I enjoyed today and didn’t even mind the wind for a bit as I wore my Gore-Tex jacket for the first time since I started trekking back in early January. I don’t think I then took it off for the rest of the trek!
Entry number 25 21st February 2009 (walk from Dingboche to Lobuche)
Walked along the ridge above Dingboche for a couple of hours today and had some fantastic top to toe views of both Cholatse and Tawachee plus yet another perspective of Ama Dablam. We crossed our second and far more challenging pass (4830m) today to get to Lobuche and on top of the pass were lots of memorials to climbers and Sherpas who have ‘expired’ (as the Nepalese would say) in the mountains. By the time we reached Lobuche the wind was really blowing up a storm and so after Sherpa stew (which includes yak meat, pasta and lots of garlic which is good for altitude) for lunch I did nothing else for the rest of the day except watch chairs and dust go flying around outside the teahouse window. Had dinner with a very nice English couple and warmed myself around the stove for a couple of hours before bed.
Versatile piece of trekking equipment of the day: the Sigg water bottle. Made from metal, this water bottle can be filled with hot tang just before bed and used as a hot water bottle until about 2pm, by which time you wake up with a raging thirst (you always do at altitude) and the tang is just the right temperature to drink! And there is more, you can wrap your damp laundry around the boiling hot bottle and that will be nice and dry by the morning as well.
Entry number 26 22nd February 2009 (walk from Lobuche to Dungla)
Today was a very bad day. I woke up with a thumping headache and very erratic breathing and knew something was wrong. This was confirmed when I got out of bed and tried to walk across the courtyard to the toilet and literally could not walk in a straight line. I knew now that I had a bad case of Altitude Sickness and needed to get down by at least a couple of hundred metres as soon as I could. I tried to eat something but wasn’t interested. Another sign of Altitude Sickness is loss of appetite and you also start slurring you words as if drunk (no comments please, I hadn’t touched a drop!) and I had both these symptoms as well and so all-in-all, I knew I was in a bad way. I cannot praise Gautam and the boys enough. We decided we would head back down the pass to Dungla which was 290m lower than Lobuche, spend the night there, see how I was in the morning and then maybe head back up again in order to give it another shot as Lobuche is one day short of Gorak Shep which is the base for visiting Everest Base Camp, our ultimate goal. I suggested that Santosh and Kama stay in Lobuche with the bulk of the kit in order to potentially save them carrying it down and then back up again but they would hear nothing of the sort and wanted us all to stick together. Santosh even offered to carry my day pack as well as the great big load he was already carrying.
We got down OK and true to the advice given in the Lonely Planet, you do start to feel a lot better almost instantly and although I had a really boring day of doing absolutely nothing apart from a bit of reading, I was glad I made the decision to come down and was hoping to give it another go the next day. I also took heart from seeing the teahouse eventually fill up with others in the same boat; some older than me, some younger which just goes to show that Altitude Sickness has nothing to do with fitness, age or anything like that.
Entry number 27 23rd February 2009 (walk from Dungla back up to Lobuche and back down to Periche)
I slept well and woke up with my appetite back which gave me encouragement to set off back up to Lobuche (and if feeling OK, even further to Gorak Shep). The walk up, although tiring, was fine in itself but we left early and by the time we arrived back in Lobuche both my hands had started to tingle real bad, which is a sign that they are going to freeze. This I really didn’t need on top of everything else and in fact this worried me more than the Altitude Sickness but again Gautam and Naryn knew what to do and the trusted Sig water bottle was used to warm my hands back up again by filling it with boiling water and rolling it between my hands whilst I still had my gloves on (by the way, I was wearing gloves when this happened, two pairs in fact). This was aided by arm and hand massages from both Gautam and Naryn to help the blood circulation and after about one hour they were back to normal. The nastiness with the hands had temporarily distracted me from my other ‘problem’ and although my breathing was fine, we knew it wouldn’t be wise to go any higher and so decided to spend yet another very boring day just hanging around. I spent some of this time sleeping, which on reflection was perhaps not a good idea because when I woke up around 4pm my breathing was in a bad away again. By 5.30pm or so Gautam was not happy with my response time when asked questions and he said my breathing was 40 when it should have been 120. Not sure what he meant by this but it was obviously not a good sign and by 6pm we were packed up and heading back down for the second time.
Going down this time was very different from the first as I knew I would not make another attempt and so I felt very low indeed, knowing I had failed to make my ultimate goal. I was also quite overwhelmed by Gautam and the boys. By 6pm it is dark and very cold outside and everyone is settled in for the night and huddled around the stove for warmth but there was absolutely no question in anyone’s mind that we wouldn’t not pack up and head down in the pitch dark with only a head lamp for guidance. No only that, we wouldn’t just go down to Dungla but further to Periche (which is about 650m lower than Lobuche) in order to better aid my recovery. I saw nothing but looks of concern from any of them and it is quite amazing in my eyes to think that Santosh and Kama carried their full loads down in the dark when again I offered them the opportunity to stay and come down in following morning. Santosh just touched my arm, said ‘No problem Mark’ and his act of kindness broke me I am afraid. We arrived back in Periche about 9pm and for most of the way Naryn knew the trail so well that he didn’t even bother turning his headlamp on. I followed him and Gautam was behind me, talking to me constantly about this and that in order to get my brain (and response time) back to normal (again no comments please). When we arrived, I thanked everyone for their efforts, ate a bit of soup and went to bed feeling very sorry myself.
Entry number 28 24th February 2009 (walk from Periche to Namche)
Slept well and felt a lot better today but we decided over breakfast to abandon the trek to Everest Base Camp and instead head back to Namche, where we would rest for a full day and then attempt the trek to Gokyo Lake. This was fine with me and so we started on the long walk all the way back down to Namche where we arrived late afternoon. Once there we were told about a porter who had died yesterday from Altitude Sickness at the top of the pass we had been up and over twice in so many days. The locals had tried to save him and get him to a hospital a day’s walk away but he had unfortunately died on the way to the hospital.
Entry number 29 25th February 2009 (Rest day in Namche)
Didn’t do too much today, played on my iPod, walked around the town and did some washing but that was about it!!
Entry number 30 26th February 2009 (walk from Namche to Phortse Tenga)
I was feeling totally fine by today but still decided to walk a lot slower than my usual pace for this next trek which hopefully was going to take me up to a series of lakes at around the 4800m mark. This route is not as well-known (and therefore not as well trekked) as the Everest Base Camp route but is reportedly supposed to have superior views of many of the big peaks. So, a little nervously, I set off again hoping all would be well this time. We only walked for about 3 hours today and slept at 3680m but again the wind (which had slipped from my mind for the past couple of days) was really kicking up and it was tough walking along an exposed ridge that finally took us to our destination. Had a bucket shower when I arrived. These are OK (although a little on the expensive side at Rs400 per bucket, about £4, US$5) and I always try to only use half the bucket so I can give the rest to Santosh, who is always grateful and it’s the least I can do for him under the circumstances!
Entry number 31 27th February 2009 (walk from Phortse Tenga to Machhermo)
This was a really nice day of walking, with great views on all sides. Met an American from Alaska called Steve in the teahouse last night and he walked with us today so Gautam and I tried to explain the rules of cricket to him which took up most of the day!
Machhermo is at 4410m and by my reckoning if I slept OK here then I could head up to the lakes tomorrow (the highest point being 5360m). The only thing I reckon might keep me awake is knowing that Machherma is the site of the most credible yeti incident in the Khumbu region to date, for it was here in 1974 that a ‘yeti’ killed 3 yaks and attacked a Sherpa woman. I didn’t get up for a pee in the night!
Entry number 32 28th February 2009 (walk from Machhermo to Gokyo)
Well, touch wood; I had a good night’s sleep without even any ‘goldfish’ gulps as my Dad calls it. Still, I was still feeling nervous so we headed off real slowly and took our time to reach Gokyo. By the time we did, the wind was nearly taking you off your feet but we decided to head up to Gokyo Ri, which is a 5360m mountain that you climb in order to get the best views of the lakes and the surrounding mountains. It was a little bit cloudy when we went up (this trek really isn’t going my way) but even so the views were still not bad but we didn’t linger as the wind was even more fierce at this height! Back down by 4pm and in bed, completely knackered, by 7pm.
Entry number 33 1st March 2009 (walk from Gokyo to Namche)
We were going to spend two nights in Gokyo and head up to the 5th lake which takes around 7 hours round trip and then the following day we were going to cross the Renjo Pass to Thame. But in the night the storm was so bad that you felt like the teahouse was going to blow away and in the morning the wind showed no signs of letting up so we made the decision to abandon both ideas and pretty much head back to Kathmandu as soon as we could. This was a much easier decision to make as by now we were all really fed up with the wind and the cold and after 16 odd days of trekking and battling it we felt enough was enough. The pass would have been too dangerous to cross and our decision was reconfirmed for us when 5 or 6 windows blew in the dinning hall at about 8am, injuring a Sherpa who received splinters of glass in the back of his head and had to be attended to by two German nurses (question, why is there always a nurse around when you need one???). It wasn’t too bad walking with the wind behind us (as we were heading south) but the distance we covered was huge and by the time we arrived back in Namche we were knackered. Had a couple of beers with dinner tonight, the first for about 10 days.
Entry number 34 2nd March 2009 (walk from Namche to Lukla)
Another long and also boring walk down the valley back to Lukla. The sun didn’t come out all day and so none of us really warmed up. Stayed in a really nice lodge in Lukla and in the evening Naryn invited us to his house for a drink then we headed to the local bar for a few more drinks and to shoot some pool. Santosh was by far the best player and beat us all! Had dinner in the kitchen at the lodge (as opposed to the restaurant) which means I am becoming a bit of a local and then headed to bed ready for the early morning wake up and flight back to Kathmandu.
Entry number 35 3rd March 2009 (flight from Lukla to Kathmandu)
These mountain flights are not for the nervous but I absolutely love them. There is always a buzz at the airport and a big bell announces that the 1st flight has left Kathmandu and so everyone should get ready. We were on the second flight, which I was glad about as the 1st one came back 20 minutes after take-off due to ‘technical’ problems! We were back in Kathmandu, albeit 4 or 5 days earlier than scheduled, by 9am and on our way home!