Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Nepal Part Deux - 3 weeks, 3 peaks, and an awful lot of walking ...

20-22nd October - Kathmandu

It's actually disgusting how much food it's possible to eat in Kathmandu! So much to choose from and so little time. Emma is working as a trek leader for this part of the trip, and the rest of the group have now arrived. They seem cool, if a bit quiet - jet lag and first day politeness? I'm sure it won't take long ... Figured a little bit of culture wouldn't hurt, and went on a random tour of Kathmandu's temples - including a visit to the capital's biggest Hindu crematorium. Pretty bizarre to be watching people lugging bodies around and burning them on open pyres, right over the river where there's loads of children swimming. Very over Kathmandu now and cannot wait to get back to the mountains. No more shopping and no more fried food!

23rd October - Kathmandu

Our first taste of Kathmandu flight chaos. Didn't realise there was a 3 day backlog of people trying to fly to Lukla, so spent an entire day sitting on the floor of KTM airport. Managed to take off finally, but just circled round Lukla with no break in the cloud and had to fly back to Kathmandu. Pretty disappointing. Back to the hotel for more reading and troughing food. Fingers crossed for tomorrow ...

24th October - Kathmandu / Lukla to Phakding

Wahey! Still a pretty hairy flight (spent most of it with my face buried in my rucksack - I'm really not into Nepali style flying tin cans), but managed to land through a gap in the clouds. So good to be back in the mountains! Hung around Lukla waiting for lost luggage, before a gentle walk to Phakding (3hrs). Can't get over how busy it is compared to Mera. Really glad we did that first. Went for a run to see how well this acclimatisation thing works. Such an amazing feeling to be running at 2600m not feeling out of breath at all! Really enjoying the trip set up, and everyone has relaxed into it and starting to be themselves. Everyone seems cool, although quite funny to see the banter between Keith, Ken and Nick - all vying for place as alpha male. Met a quy called Tim in Lukla (who knows Guy) - few warnings about what to expect on Lobuje East - 80 degree ice and waist deep snow. They didn't make it up. Hopefully it will be in better nick by the time we get there.

25th October - Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3400m)

Just cannot get over how many people are on this trail. Busloads of Japanese, hundreds of Yaks, and no chance of walking any faster than snail's pace. Not used to this bimbling along after walking at normal rate on Mera. Steep climb into Namche - pretty cool to be here - it's the Sherpa capital and one of those places I've read about so many times. Awesome view from our tents - really liking having my own tent to spread out in, and amazingly still have phone reception.

26th October - Namche Bazaar (3400m)

Acclimatisation day - went for a walk up to 4000m to the Everest View Hotel. Pretty impressive views - funnily enough - of Amadablam and Everest. The monsoon finally seems to be over and so far (touch wood), we've had amazingly clear weather. Sat in the sun for a couple of hours, chilling out, and mooched around the shops and market in town. Very chilled, and have relaxed into the idea of being cooked for and looked after. Life's hard!

27th October - Namche Bazaar (3400m) to Dole (4000m)

To make up for our lost day, combined 2 into one, so quite a long walk from Namche to Dole. Lovely easy path, and gentle ascents. Finally the route has cleared up and the Japanese army seem to have gone into hiding. It's amazing some of the people you see walking this trail - half of them don't look like they've ever walked further than once round the block. Lovely lunch on a terrace overlooking Tamserku and Kantega.

28th October - Dole (4000m) to Machermo (4400m)

A very easy walk, climbing 400m gently along the hillside. Took 3 hours over it, although probably could have done it in half the time, but lovely to enjoy the first truly clear day - so beautiful. Stunning views along the valley to Cho Oyu. Still can't believe we're going there in less than a year. Scary - but exciting too. Went for a talk about acclimatisation at the medical centre. Funnily enough, the only person who really needed to hear it (Keith), was in bed suffering from AMS. An executive decision has been made to stay here 2 nights, to let everyone acclimatise. Quite a few people have headaches, and we need to practise jumarring for the peaks. Think Emma and my acclimatisation advantage is wearing off now - it's been 2 weeks since Mera. Also not feeling super hot - possibly due to excessive haribo eating. Definitely getting colder and my sleeping bag is the warmest place to be, so tucked up by 8pm. Might have to move back in with Emma for warmth!

29th October - Machermo (4400m)

A bad night's sleep - fever and diarrhoea all night, so very glad we're not moving anywhere. Felt like shit (boom boom) all day. Knackered and achy ... went for a little walk up the ridge above Machermo, and practised jumarring and abseiling in the afternoon. But ended up bailing and just crawling back to bed. Feeling very sorry for myself!

30th October - Machermo to Gokyo (4900m)

Managed to drug myself up enough to bring the fever down and get some sleep, but still feel totally rotten. Rattling and empty and feverish. Not much fun. Have started on the cipro so hoping for a miracle cure! Walked (slowly) from Machermo to Gokyo - hard to appreciate the stunning views when you feel like death warmed up, but the lakes were beautiful. Too much information, but have never known diarrhoea like it, and getting worse. Want a cuddle!!! My health aside, Ken managed to put an end to his trip by falling down the stairs in the lodge - and breaking his arm. Looks pretty serious, but fortunately he's a doctor and came armed with horse tranquiliser pain killers. Helicopter on its way first thing in the morning.

31st October - Gokyo Ri (5360m)

Definitely feeling better this morning - so nice to be vaguely human again, and good news that the drugs must be working. Was starting to get worried I'd have to bin the trip. Saw Ken off in the helicopter (nearly got taken out by it while crossing the river - scary moment). Poor guy! Lazy morning in the sun, chilling out, having a shower (yey!), and drinking tea. Hiked up Gokyo Ri this afternoon - Absolutely stunning. Watching the sunset on Everest brought tears to my eyes - feels like such a priviledge to be here. Honestly so beautiful how much the colours change.

01 November - Gokyo towards Cho La

Relatively easy walk from Gokyo towards the Cho La. Camped below the pass in the middle of nowhere at 5050m. Would have been beautiful if the mist hadn't come down. Not sure if I'm looking forward to Lobuje East - feel so much better but still pretty weak and feeble and have lost a lot of weight very quickly. Would be great if it wasn't muscle, and from funny places. I have skinny calves and armpits now. Weird.

02 November - Cho La (5500m) to near Lobuje (5000m)

A long day's walk (8 hours?) over the Cho La Pass to another random campsite, not far from Lobuje. Feeling kind of over it now. Sick of being skinny and cold all the time - even if it is the most beautiful place I've ever been!

03 November - Lobuje (5000m) to Lobuje Base Camp (5200m)

Walk and scramble up from our camp to Lobuje Base camp. The peak is over 6000m so summit day is going to be massive. Pretty cool camp site perched right on a rocky ledge. Wouldn't want to take a wrong step in the middle of the night. Stunning views and sunset.

04 November - Lobuje East Summit (6000m) to Lobuje village

Probably the most physically demanding day of my life! 1.30am rude awakening ... chiapatti and eggs (oh my god, so many eggs), followed by a steep rocky scramble from 5200m to 5600m. Pretty hard work in the dark at that altitude, and some fairly scary moments in big boots on rock in the cold. Some surprisingly difficult bits - especially considering the group aren't climbers. Donned crampons at the snowline for a shortish walk across the glacier, before the jumarring began. Seriously hard work. Would have been easier to climb it without the fixed ropes and my jumar constantly jamming, making it twice as hard work - but need it for safety. Considering I was on good form on Mera, I found the climb amazingly difficult. Very disappointing to feel this rough, but think my body hasn't had time to recover from being ill - just couldn't get into the zone and enjoy myself, plus had a banging headache by the top. Made it to the summit - just - but felt pretty rough and not in the mood to appreciate the views! Desperately wanted to get straight down - knackered, suffering with the altitude, dehydrated and way too much sun. Miserable walk / abseil down in sugary snow and beating rays, before finally making it back to base camp to collapse in the tent. Hauled ourselves up half an hour later (no rest in this boot camp) to pack up our tents, and hike down to Lobuje village. Started at 1.30am and finally limped into town (which is a total dump) at 5.30pm. Long day!

05 November - Lubuche to Gorak Shep (Kala Pattar) (5500m)

A lazy start after 13 hours sleep, and feel so much better after yesterday. Definitely fried a few brain cells I think, so it's good to have a chilled one. Go for a mellow walk with Emma up the valley. Kind of aiming for Everest Base camp, but we know we probably won't make it (it would be a 9 hour round trip and we don't leave camp until 10.30). We both too tired from the day before and stop off in Gorak Shep to hang out, drink coke and eat (more) chocolate. Sit in the sun, chat to other trekkers, before deciding to walk up Kala Pattar to see if you can see Base Camp from the top. Change my mind and end up scrambling along a ridge to find my own little viewing point. Can't see camp (there's a Thai group there at the moment), but enjoy a pretty amazing view - completely on my own, surrounded by the biggest mountains in the world - all making their rumbling noises - throwing rocks and avalanches and groaning glaciers. Missing Guy a lot - it's a long time to be away from each other, and wish he could be here to share some of this! Gentle walk back to Lobuche for dinner. Really looking forward to getting back to Lukla / Kathmandu - my body feels like it's falling apart. Need a rest day and some non trek food! Feel sad that I've had enough ...

06th November - Lobuche to Kongma La (5500m) to Camp

A lovely walk from Lobuche (what a relief to get out of that place!) over the Kongma La. Took it steady, admiring the stunning views of Cholatse. Camp in a gorgeous spot just after the pass, right by a lake, with Pokalde (tomorrow's peak) looking down at us, and Amadablam towering down from across the valley. Share a tent with Emma for warmth. Feeling quite nervous about tomorrow's ascent after my disaster on Lobuche East. Really hope I make it up - even Fergie's been up there! Starting to think Cho Oyu is a ridiculous idea.

07th November - Pokalde (5800m) to Chukung

Take everything back!!! What a cool day. Woke up at 4 and watched the sunrise over Amadablam as we walked the first section of Pokalde (steep rocky path). Absolutely stunning. The top 100m was a rocky scramble / climb - so nice to feel like we're actually climbing something, rather than snow plodding on a fixed line. Good to have to think about where to put your hands and feet, and a couple of actual climbing moves. So much fun and awesome to still feel completely fine at the summit. Amazing views in the early morning, including a massive avalanche on Pumori, that must have come pretty close to Everest Base Camp ... or at least it looked that way. Think everyone in the group really enjoyed themselves - totally lifted spirits and changed the atmosphere. Funny that this climb was the one I was least looking forward to - kind of going through the motions, but yet turned out to be the day I've enjoyed the most. Bimble back down for an early lunch, before walking down to Chukung to sit in the lodge for hours, and trough a disgusting amount of pringles. End up making ourselves feel sick, but nice anyway! Even rewarded myself with a freezing cold bucket wash. Took half an hour in my sleeping bag to get the feeling back in my feet, but good to feel clean.

08th November - Chukung to Island Peak Base Camp

2 down, and 1 to go, it's starting to feel like we're getting near the end of this trek. A gentle walk up the river from Chukung to Island peak base camp. Feeling really nervous about this one - we're camping at 5200m and going straight to the summit at 6200m, missing out high camp because there's no water there. That would be fine in the Alps, but it's a big day over 5000m. Base camp is a dump, and a crazy wind tunnel, making it really cold. Share a tent with Emma again for warmth. Massive pre-climb pizza dinner (how do they make such good pizzas up here??!). Ram so much food in for energy that I'm too full to sleep!

09th November - Island peak summit (6200m) to Chukkung

Get woken up at midnight for 'breakfast' - more eggs!! Feel like I haven't slept a wink. Manage a cup of tea before we get going. Start off in normal boots for a rocky scramble up to 5800m. Really cold (-20?) - thankfully my hand warmers are doing a good job, but my feet are freezing. Make good progress at a really steady plod - no stops. So much better than stop start as you can actually get into a rhythm. Climbing in the dark always seems deceptive - you're half asleep and can't see what you're doing and where you're going, and it's amazing how quickly time goes. Crampon point is a 45 minute faff, waiting for everyone to get their freezing cold boots on with icy hands. Hard to keep warm while we're standing around ... The short glacier crossing is very slow. You have to move at the slowest person's pace and a couple of the group are really suffering in the cold and at altitude. Amazed I feel totally fine. Dawn breaks as we get towards the final climb - 150m of 50 degree snow, before a long ridge to the summit. Takes a while to get going as the fixed ropes are tangled, but once on them, I make pretty steady progress. Nice to just get into a zone and plod on in your own rhythm - ice axe, step, step ... Definitely feeling the altitude, but feel so much better than on Lobuche. Bimble along the ridge to the summit pretty slowly - the little rises are killers when you can see the end in sight! Wait on the summit with Dave for the rest of the group to join us. Everyone makes it up - for photos and congratulations, before we peg it down. The weather's coming in from the next valley - high clouds but lightning is worrying. Last peak done - we're on the way downhill from now on in!!! We're all pretty exhausted by the time we've walked back down to base camp - at around midday, but so much better than Lobuche East. Soup and tea, before packing up and moving back to Chukkung. The walk back (3 hours), seems to take forever - by this stage it's pissing with snow and we've already been on the go for 12 hours solid. But much better to get down the valley for the night, than sleep in the windy base camp with the next groups around us getting up at midnight and waking us up. Absolutely knackered, and crazy to be going to bed in the snow. Have a few shots of Keith's whiskey to celebrate the start of the journey home - more than enough to send me straight to sleep.

10th November - Chukkung to Phunki Tenga

12 chilly hours sleep and wake up to 20cm of snow. Have been so lucky with the weather, I'd almost forgotten about rain / snow. Amazing how quickly we get back on the main trail and 'civilisation'. Strange after so many days in the middle of nowhere to see so many people again. But so much quieter than at the start of the trek. Lunch in Pangboche, followed by a visit to the monastery in Tengboche. A long descent to Funki Tenga - so nice to be back below 4000m. I'm sure it's psychological, but I feel like every breath of air is bringing my strength back. Feel amazingly healthy - and so nice to start being warm again. Being cold all the time is hard work.

11th November - 16th November

A gentle walk out of the valley, back along the river to Lukla. One final night of drinking wine and chang and dancing to Nepali cheesy disco tunes with the porters (you had to be there), followed by a flight to Kathmandu ... and back to civilisation, red wine, steaks, beeping horns, and hot showers.

What an amazing trip. It's had its moments, but overall, it's been such an incredible experience. We've done a lot - 4 c6000m peaks, a skiing first on Mera, and an awful lot of walking - in some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It will be nice to have a break, but I can't wait to go back next year - Nepal is a very special place, and the people are amazing!

In the mean time, I'm so looking forward to Thailand - the beach, climbing, seeing my boy, green curries, fresh fruit ... hanging out with my mates, and just chilling. Then there's the winter ... apparently it's the best start to a ski season in the Alps for the last 10 years.



fred emery said...

Dunno what a jumar is, but Steph's blog is a tribute to less loss of brain cells than I'd predicted. Fantastic Steph, well done. Much enjoyed it, even though we surely are past it. Take good care (as if you wouldn't) Marianne & Fred Emery

Yeti said...

Hey emma/steph love your blog your a bunch of very brave young lady's how all goes well for you both xo yeti