Ok, now that I am home here is the report since I was not able to blog each day.
First let me give you the skinny of the plan. The plan was as follows: my buddy Kevin Collins (SQL Server Mobile Edition PM) and I were planning to trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Most trekkers hike for 2 weeks and then touch their toe at Base Camp and turn back. Kevin and I wanted to spend some serious time at Base Camp. The problem is that nobody is allowed to camp at Base Camp unless you have a climbing permit and the Nepal government charges $60,000 US for one. Kevin and I are not rich, so what we did was hook up with an Expedition that was going to the summit (they should summit in the middle of October.) So we left the US knowing that we would have a unique experience of being on a real summit expedition and then sleeping two nights at base camp. The expedition was lead by the climbing superstar Wally Berg (4 summits under his belt) and has 4 other clients (including a woman who is going to ski down and be the fist woman to so.) Here is the full story of our three weeks in Nepal (photos up soon, so check this page again in about a week):
Day 1. “The Talk”
We arrived in Kathmandu and got the talk about the expedition from Wally. Was so cool to hear about his summit plans and how it all works. Being my second time to Nepal, it was nice to come here with a Visa already in my passport this time (note to people who are coming here in the future, get your Visa in advance, trust me!).
Day 2. “Burning Dead Bodies”
Today was a rest day and day for others to arrive in Kathmandu, so we spent the time sightseeing Kathmandu. We visited a few sacred Buddhist sights and a Hindu death ritual cremation sight.
Day 3. “Start Walking”
Today we flew a twin otter 15 seat plane to the town of Lulka (9,000’) to begin our trek. The flight was cool and most of the empty seats were filled with our gear and lots of climbing equipment that was going by Yak straight to Base Camp. The airport at Lulka is from the twilight zone since the runway was short and faced totally uphill at about a 75 degree angle, so landing was an experience. From here we begin the trek to Base Camp that is over 60 miles and almost 10,000’ elevation gain away. From Lulka on there are no roads, TVs, phones (land lines, Sat phone only), machinery (all human or animal power) and a very simple way of life in the Khumbu Valley. Some towns have no running water and all supplies are carried by human or yak power.
We trekked for about 3 hours down to the town of Phakding (9,500’) over beautiful waterfalls and mountain views.
Day 4. “Running with Sherpas”
Today we trekked from Phakding (9.500’) to the major town (maybe 100 buildings) of Namche Bazar (11,500’). Since I was feeling in such good shape I went ahead with two sherpas (Our Sirdar and Camp II Cook) and a climber. They travel very fast, but at this elevation I am not worried about getting sick. Our Sirdar wanted to hear all about New York. We trekked fast and cleared Namche hill very fast and got to Namche very early and spent time in a tea house cleaning up, doing laundry and took a shower!
Day 5. “Glacier Melt”
Today was a rest day for acclimation to the altitude. It was spent trying to use the internet over a Sat phone (a very painful experience), hiking up the hill to see our first glance of Mt. Everest and eating “Glacier Melts” in the Khumbu Lodge. (A glacier melt is a deep fried Mars bar.)
Day 6. “Sherpa Home”
Today we hiked from Namche to Pangboche (12,700’) and stayed at our Sirdar’s home. Once again I am ahead with the sherpas and faster climbers, but while I got to the destination early, I was pooped, so decided to stick with the main group from this elevation on.
Day 7. “Blessing by a Lama”
Today we were blessed by a Lama at the Pangboche Monastery in a delightful ceremony. It was so unique since he blessed the climbing team for their climb and we got to witness that part too. Maegan who is skiing down the mountain had a very moving experience when the Lama spoke directly to her-which affected us all.
We then trekked on to Pheriche (14,000’) over some great hills with views of all of the Himalaya. From the next 8 days or so, I spend over 14,000’, higher than almost anything in the Continental United States.
Day 8. “Please don’t Hypnotize me to have Sex with Yaks”
An overnight rest day for acclimation so pretty much dominated by some Frisbee games and a hypnosis session led by the climber David Burger. I was joking that can he hypnotize me to spend less time thinking about the opposite sex and someone suggested that I get hypnosis to start liking Yaks. (Sorry Dennis, I still like girls.) We start to test our Oxygen levels in our blood, I come in at about 86%, which is great for 14,000’ but would put me in the Intensive Care Unit at Sea Level. My body is doing great with the altitude.
Day 9. “Too Many Deaths”
For every 6 people who summit Everest, 1 dies. Today we visited on the trail from Pheriche to Loboche (16,000) a memorial site for those who died on Mt. Everest. If you read “Into Thin Air”, Scott Fisher’s memorial was quite prominent, he was popular with the Sherpas who made this memorial-and was also Wally’s best friend, so it was a solemn visit. I spend about two hours trekking alone before Kevin catches up with me and all I could hear is the river and my footsteps, I used this time to contemplate life.
Today we also meet Magi on the trail, a random trekker from the United Kingdom who has been traveling around the world for a year.
Day 10. “Just What is Spotted Dick?”
Today we trekked to Gorak Shep (16,800’) to stage our assault on climbing the peak of Kala Pattar (18,700’) the next day and then trekking to Everest Base Camp (17,400). We discover a dessert for sale called “Spotted Dick” and Wally asks “Just what is Spotted Dick” which Magi replies that it is a traditional English dessert. Since it is freeze dried, Gary bought some for us to have at Base Camp. Gorak Shep is not really a town, but just two lodges on the side of a river.
Day 11. “Game Day”
Today we woke at and started the climb up Kala Pattar at 18,700’ (but my altimeter said only 18,300’). It was a very hard climb, just about a technical climb for the last 100’ or so with 3,000’ drops into Tibet if you slip. We had to crawl over rocks and ice and snow to get to the top. We watched the sunrise and had a spectacular paranoiac view of the entire range. Saw Everest and Base Camp, the Khumbu Icefall, Pumori and Nuptse and most of the other 8000 meter peaks. This was one of the most amazing sights in my life.
We spent the rest of the day trekking over the Khumbu Glacier to Base Camp (17,400’). The views of the rest of the glacier were amazing, rocks and ice just falling into glacial lakes. It was very slippery to trek over, so it took well over 4 hours. We spent some time viewing the remains of the helicopter that crashed in May 2003, I stole a piece of the debris for a momento. Upon arrival at Base Camp Kevin’s and my tent was on top of a ice and rock pile at the foot dangerous Khumbu Icefall. We got to sleep at night with the constant sound of the glacier moving and constant avalanches (they occur every 20 minutes or so.) What a sound show.
Day 12. “Puja Day at Base Camp”
What a day. We spend the day at Base Camp and witness a Sherpa Buddhist Puja to bless the Icefall and climbers. A totally unique experience, the Sherpas will not begin the climb until the Puja is completed. A Puja is a Buddhist religious ceremony. The monk chants paryers while we throw flower and rice and reflect. We all get prayer strings blessed by the Dali Lama.
It gets so hot that Kevin sneaks a photo of me walking around Base Camp shirtless trying to get a tan (which resulted in a massive sunburn). My body is feeling great that I did not realize I was spending the entire day at over 17,400’ on top of a glacier and at the foot of the largest icefall in the world.
Since we were the only climbing permit, we not only have base camp to ourselves, but all of our Sherpas are the cream of the crop. It was so educational and moving to talk to them and learn about the 1996 tragedy first hand (many were there).
Gary, Maegan, Grant, Ama Timber, the dog and I eat the spotted dick after supper.
Day 13. “Snowball Fight at the Top of the World”
Today we wake up to 6+ inches of snow at camp and have a snowball fight with the sherpas. Too bad, but we do have to leave Base Camp today, after 3 days and two nights there. We trek 6 hours through the snowstorm and over the icy glacier all the way back to Loboche (16,800’). I got very friendly with the climbers and it was hard to say goodbye. I lent my gloves to David and he is going to wear them on summit day and Meagan scored my down jacket to leave at Camp II.
Day 14. “I need a new Sherpa”
Today we trek down from Lobache back to our Pangboche (12,700’) and I was feeling so good that I decided to race my sherpa a few times at 15,000’ without packs and WON. Kevin and I were so strong that Nima our Sherpa was worn out (we have photos to prove this.) The air is still feeling very thick.
Day 15. “Hillary School”
Today we trek down to Kumjum (12,500’) and visit the Hillary School and take lots of photos with little kids. Today it hits me why I came here in the first place, seeing these kids with nothing, but just so damn happy.
Day 16. “Back to Namche”
Today we walk down to Namche Bazar and rest at 11,500’. Do some shopping for prayer flags and other fun stuff. I made an attempt to check my email on the sat phone computer and it was bad, very bad.
Day 17. “Back to Lulka”
Today we did a long haul all the way back to Lulka. It starts to pour but the return to Lulka was glorious, all the porters were with me and singing “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.”
Day 18. “Waiting for the Fog”
Totally fogged in at Lulka, no flights allowed in our out. The military has a curfew of due to the Maoists rebels and walks around with machine guns pointed at you. We comply with the curfew.
Day 19. “No Woman No Cry”
More damn fog. I am starting to lose it until we discover happy hour at the one local bar that also has a pool table and a bartender who will do anything I say (including playing Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” 4 times in a row). I beat Dennis at 9-ball and also get incredibly drunk. I also get Mihn Sherpa very drunk, hard drinks were 2 for 1 and about $2-so $1 shots basically-you do the math. Getting super drunk at about 10,000’ is fun.
Day 20. “Back to Kathmandu-More dangerous than Everest”
We finally make it back to Kathmandu on the only flight in and out of Lulka for the last 3 days. They also close the airport just after we leave, so we are so lucky. Get to see the first road and car, etc in Kathamndu, however there is a Maoist revolt in Kathmandu and yet another curfew, men with machine guns, etc. This time there are battles with the good guys and bad guys and stuff gets blown up and power constantly goes out. No cars on the streets. Our van that picks us up hides their liscence plates (so the Maoists won’t know who they are) and spray paints “Tourists” on the car, not sure if this makes us a target of snipers or not. We survive and fly off to Delhi the next day.