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.

10/8:  The weather is definitely turning.  We get a few hours of sunlight in the morning, but then we are enveloped in fog and mist as the moist air rolls in.  Walking to Junbesi, we have to climb a kilometer into the sky to cross a pass...  only to descend right down the other side.  At least the weather holds until we are off the trail.

10/9:  On the walk to Nunthala, the weather is even worse.  It's raining in the morning, and I don't want to get out of bed.  I make a pair of "ghetto gaiters" out of two plastic bags to keep my socks (and hence the insides of my boots) dry.  Doesn't matter anyway--my boots are trashed, they've got holes in them, so the ghetto gaiters are more of a strange fashion statement and a testament to American ingenuity than anything else.

10/10:  We walk to Bupsa.  It will be our last night on this section of the trek.  Soon, the path will turn north, toward the crowds, incompetency, environmental unawareness, and hefty prices of mass tourism.  Since everyone hikes about the same distance every day, we've been with the same people for several days.  Kristin (Canadian) and James (British/ honorary Canadian) are also long-term travelers with a path similar to ours, though they're traveling east to west.  We've also spent a lot of time with a South African trio.  I'll miss having the teahouse dining room for only the seven of us.

10/11:  We walk from Bupsa, south of the main trail junction to Lukla, to Phakding, north of the trail junction.  Over the course of less than a kilometer, prices triple.  The Communists may be in charge here, but the people understand the market concept of supply and demand!  This was an incredibly long day.  Not sure why, but at the end, both Dave and I nicknamed it "Death March Day."  I think it was the weather...  lack of sunlight = lack of energy.  I made friends with a little boy named Tashi, since little kids speak Nepali at my level.

10/12:  The "big hill" up to Namche that novice trekkers fear is like walking up a single flight of stairs to us--we've been doing hills for the past week.  On this trek, we've already been above 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet), but we haven't slept that high.  From now on, we'll need to limit our daily ascent, "climbing high and sleeping low," to minimize the risk of altitude sickness.

10/13:  Rest and acclimatization day.  We get up early to climb to a lookout, and I see Everest for the first time.  Our clothing is disgusting with sweat and dirt, so I squat over a metal bowl filled with cold water like a Nepali woman and hang our laundry to dry in the sun.  We take another walk to keep the lungs working and the body acclimatizing.  But after nearly a week of full days of walking, it's nice to take a rest.

The high altitude part of the trek starts now...  and the adventure is just beginning!

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