Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One More Time!

Laundry is washed,
gear is sorted,
medicines are purchased,
bus tickets are arranged,
bodies are rested,
camera batters are recharged,
bank accounts are depleted,
boots are re-glued,
families and friends are contacted,
Jay has joined us, and
I'm ready to do it all again!

This time, we're headed to the famous Annapurna Circuit in central-western Nepal.  We are leaving tomorrow morning (10/28) and expect to be back in Kathmandu by mid-November (11/15).

This little Google Map shows our approximate route on the last trek from Jiri to Everest Base Camp/ Kala Patthar back to Lukla.  Not the most accurate, but I think it will give my Mummers a general idea of where I went.  :-)

Until November...  signing off!

View Everest Base Camp Trek in a larger map

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Independent Trekker's Gear List

I carried my own bag for the entire Everest Base Camp trek--from Jiri to Gorak Shep, back down to Lukla.  I was pretty ruthless in cutting out any nonessential weight, and I'm pretty pleased with my gear list.  I used everything, and other than extra antibiotics, I wasn't missing anything essential.  In the hope that this information might be useful for other independent trekkers coming to Nepal, here is my gear list for a 25-day trek.

Notes:  I am female, age 28, medium build, not freakishly strong but certainly accustomed to carrying a backpack.  I was trekking in October, so the weather wasn't too wet or too cold.  I was not climbing or mountaineering.  I estimate that my pack weighed about 7 kilos total.  The stuff that was totally necessary is shown in bold.

--2 tee shirts (one merino for hiking, which I wore constantly; one spare poly-blend for camp)
--2 long-sleeved shirts (one merino for hiking, which I wore constantly; one spare poly-blend for camp, which I probably didn't need)
--2 fleeces (one lightweight, one heavyweight)
--1 down jacket (necessary even in October at high altitudes)
--1 rain shell (necessary even in October for rain and snow protection)

--1 long skirt (so comfortable, great temperature control, love hiking in it!)
--1 pair nylon hiking pants (probably could have replaced with wind/ rain pants)
--1 pair fleece pants (for sleeping and warmth in teahouses)
--1 pair long johns (for warmth while hiking, especially under the skirt)

--5 pairs underwear (take up little room, nice way to feel cleaner even when you're not)
--1 sports bra, 1 comfy bra (probably could have left behind the latter)
--2 pairs hiking socks, 1 pair liner socks, 1 pair heavy socks for evenings
--1 pair hiking boots, 1 pair fake "crocs"
--1 wide-brimmed sun hat, 1 fleece-lined wool hat
--1 pair fleece-lined wool mittens
--1 handkerchief, 1 bandana, 1 buff, 1 fleece neck gaiter (new, hopefully it will help the cough!)

--toothbrush, floss
--2 hair elastics
--1 complete med kit, with enough antibiotics to supply a small hospital, also diamox
--1 travel towel
--"climb on" skincare bar, chapstick
--glasses (worn all the time)

--deodorant (will probably leave behind on the next trek--merino doesn't stink, I do!)
--hairbrush (ditto above)
--cotton buds (ditto above)

--headlamp and spare batteries
--2 hiking poles
--1 water bottle
--0 degree C sleeping bag
--internal frame pack (nothin' special) with rain cover
--boot wax and boot glue (lame attempt to keep my boots together, I'm giving up and going with holes on the next trek)
--2 plastic bags (one for my vomit, one for Dave's)
--trekking permits and tickets
--safety pins

Personal Items:
--journal and pen
--wallet, credit card, and tons of rupees
--camera, spare batteries, spare memory cards
--passport and copy of passport
--insurance information and emergency numbers
--my good luck charm

Davo Carries Group Gear:
--steripen and batteries
--battery charger
--hand sanitizer
--combo lock (no need to carry a key to our room!)
--small amount of laundry soap (to keep our hiking socks from hiking away from us)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trip Report: Everest Base Camp Trek, Part I

The trip report summary: bus ride from hell; steaming bag of stomach contents #1; a kind sherpa couple; a leech where no leech should ever be; daily mountain passes; trail friends; adorable nepali children; clouds, clouds, rain, fog, clouds; the shock of mass tourism; yak convoys; my boots busting; acclimatizing; learning...  to read and write nepali; more acclimatizing; clouds, clouds, snow, fog, clouds; adorable sherpa children; steaming bag of stomach contents #2 + blood; emergency donkey ride (="ambulance"); a turn in the weather; more mountain passes; the goddamn khumbu cough; no, i won't sleep in a tent, it's -10C; topless everest base camp (+ whiskey, rum, vodka, cigars, and cigarettes); glaciers and cairns and mountains oh my!; breathe breathe breathe COUGH; climbing higher to 5,600 m/ 18,500 ft; and finally, "the big one." Nearly four weeks, around 110 miles, about 9,000 meters of ascent, 14 mountain passes, and a lot of plates of dal bhat... I can safely say this qualifies as EPIC.

It's been a while since I posted...  well, I'm still alive, I've just been hiking.  Dave and I took just under four weeks to hike from Jiri, a small village in eastern Nepal, to near Mt. Everest, back south to Lukla. Here's the more extended trip report...

10/1:  To get to the start of the walk in Jiri, we took the worst bus ride of the trip.  The vehicle was built for midgets and driven by an insane man.  We sat in the very back row, and I cracked my head on the ceiling when the bus hit potholes (there were approximately 398,593,176 of them on the 180 km drive).  It took 9 hours.  By the end, I was slumped on the floor of the aisle.  That evening, I projectile vomited for a while, then the explosion of bodily fluids started from the other end. 

10/2:  Since I'm as crazy as the man driving the hellfire midget bus, we started walking to Shivalaya.  After a while, the nausea was so bad I needed to stop every 50 meters to heave on the side of the trail.  Dave carried my bag, Nepali-style, with the shoulder strap across his forehead.  That got a lot of funny looks.

10/3:   We walked from Shivalaya to Bhandar.  It wasn't a bad walk--typical of this section of trail.  Up a big hill, down a big hill.  And I mean big.  Unfortunately, by the time we got to Bhandar, I was running a fever and generally feeling like I had been under the bus for 9 hours instead of in it.

10/4, 10/5, 10/6:  Although my stomach settled down, I had a fever that just wouldn't quit, even with ibuprophen/ paracetamol.  An unexplained fever, especially coming from a tropical country, means I couldn't walk farther--if I got sicker, I was that much farther from help.  So we waited.  And waited.  And waited.

The path from Jiri to Lukla doesn't see many trekkers anymore, due to the construction of the airstrip in Lukla and the (now discontinued) Maoist practice of asking for sizeable cash "donations" to their cause from foreigners.  There were no large tour groups, trekkers tended to be more responsible, self-sufficient, and friendlier, prices were much lower, and the Nepalis were more interested in interacting with us.  We stayed with this Sherpa man, Chhiring, and his non-English speaking wife while I recovered.  Chhiring served me tea he grew himself and taught Dave the Nepali alphabet, so we could learn to read and write.  Chhiring and his wife giggle constantly, like children.  So cute.

10/7:  I was feeling well enough to start walking.  But the weather had changed--instead of clear and bright, the air felt damp.  Monsoon usually blows through by September, but this year it had come late and lasted long.  Our days of sunshine were numbered.  And since the trail was wet, there was another surprise awaiting me...

This nasty thing attached itself on my upper upper upper thigh when I stopped to answer the call of nature off the trail.  Let me tell you, the only blood-sucking thing I want that up in my business is a tampon (the picture is cropped for decency).  As he blew up like a hellish, demented grape, my other thigh would brush against his slimy back, so I had to hike bow-legged for about an hour.  I nicknamed him "Fatty McFatterson."  My leg is still bleeding, eight hours later, when I arrive in Sete for the evening.

Trip Report: Everest Base Camp Trek, Part II

From here, where to go?  Our original plan to cross the Cho La pass seems unlikely; we lost too many days when I got sick.  The weather would have to be perfect for us to cross safely, and we'd have a very short window of opportunity.  To complicate matters, the bad weather has meant that flights to Lukla have been grounded for four days.  The valley up to Everest Base Camp is slowly emptying out, and only trekkers crazy enough to walk from Jiri or rich enough for a helicopter ride are coming in.  Our original plan was to skip the crowds and to head up a valley to the west, but at the last minute, we decide to go for the famous Khumbu Valley.

10/14:  We walk to Tengboche, home of a famous monestary.  Unsurprisingly, there's another huge hill up to Tengboche.  You'd think this country was full of hills and mountains or something...  oh wait.  Yeah.  Tengboche has a lovely little museum with exhibits on the Tengboche Monestary and Tibetan Buddhism, the predominant religion here.  This was my first direct experience with Vajrayana Buddhism, the mystical, tantric cousin in the Buddhist family, though my favorite author (Pema Chodron) is an American woman ordained in this tradition.  The monks permit foreigners to attend their puja (prayer) services.  I sat in the monestary for a long while in the evening, until all but one other foreigner had lost interest in the funny costumes and mumbling prayers.  The other white woman and I sat next to each other in meditation and the monks dedicated their practice to all sentient beings.

10/15 and 10/16:  We walked to Pheriche, right behind the South Africans whose schedule has mirrored our own.  I found a friendly lodge where the woman in charge spoke excellent English and had the most amazing little baby.  Seriously, where is the factory that pumps out all of these adorable Nepali and Sherpa children?!

We all were scheduled for a rest day in Pheriche, after ascending about 1,000 meters from Namche.  Together with Greg and Duncan, we took an acclimatization walk over the ridge to Dingboche, where there was an excellent bakery.  Once again, I'm so happy we walked in from Jiri.  The trail camaraderie built over that week is a totally different experience compared to the anonymous mass tourist experience of the Khumbu.

10/17:  Our walk up to Dukla was quite short--just up the valley and up a hill.  It took two hours, but in order to stick to our <500 meters per night ascent plan, this is our last stop for the day.  Originally, we were going to take a walk in the afternoon, but the weather turned very bad very quickly, so we stayed inside and studied Nepali.  I know my handwriting must look like a child's--the porters get just as much entertainment out of our butchery of their language as we do.

10/18:  In the morning, Dave tells me he was up for much of the night with terrible nausea...  then three times to the bathroom before breakfast.  Uh oh.  He doesn't want to stay in Dukla, since it was likely the food here that made him sick, so we head up the hill to Lobuche.  Once there, he takes a turn for the worse.  He vomits so hard that mucus and stomach contents are pouring out of his nose--so hard that soon there's blood in his vomit.  If he can't keep down liquids, he can't keep down an antibiotic; at this altitude, he will be very dehydrated and very sick very quickly unless he gets medical attention.