Monday, March 14, 2011

Nepal: The Himalayas-Everest

Everest
Yeti Skulls, Snake Gods and Chang:


I spent about 3 ½ weeks walking near Everest. There are never-ending side-trails, valleys, peaks and glaciers that you can explore, so you never run out of new places to hike towards. 
Khumbu Glacier

Sunburn slowly healing
My first night, I met a German tour with an all-inclusive package for a 15-day trek to Everest Base Camp. They were flown to the start of their trek by a privately-chartered helicopter. They said they paid somewhere around $10,000 US each for these luxuries. Crazy! I spent about $5-$7/day.

They invited me to stay with them for the night, and I wasn’t too surprised when they bought a $150 bottle of whisky for dinner. Their personal guide took us all up to a Buddhist monastery where they held a supposed “yeti skull”. The local Dalai Lama insisted that it was the real thing, but I thought it resembled half a coconut shell more than anything.

Chilling with Hillary
the $150 Whisky
























I was pleasantly surprised that I could ascend over 1000 meters in a day and not get any symptoms of altitude sickness apart from some mild breathlessness. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen, and the symptoms are remarkably similar to a mix between a really bad hangover and the flu. 


I met a couple of Australians up at 4000 meters that were travelling in full luxury: 8 porters, a chef, chef assistant, dishwasher, guide, and an assistant guide. When I came over to say hello, they could hardly talk to me because of the severe headaches and stomach issues they were having. The guide insisted that they would be fine after one night, but from what I heard from my dad, as soon as you have symptoms of AMS, you must descend to a lower elevation or risk pulmonary or cerebral edema. I had a feeling that the guide didn’t want to cut the trip short, because they were only on their fifth day of the tour and the guides are paid by the day, so a shorter trip translates to lower pay. The next morning I continued up and never saw them again. 
Giant glacier on the way to Gokyo

One of my first destinations were the Gokyo Lakes. They are a gorgeous-emerald color and created by glacier melt. They are considered sacred by Hindus and Buddhists and the residing place of the Snake God. During the Janai Purnima Festival in August, many followers of the religion make a pilgrimage to bathe in their waters. When I got there in January, they were mostly covered by a sheet of cracking ice, and the prospect of joining the Polar Bear Club up at 4800 meters wasn’t too appealing. 

Gokyo Lake 3
Gokyo Lake 4---getting progressively more frozen
 I was the only girl in Gokyo, all the other local women had gone down to visit their relatives in warmer climates, but no matter. After Deadhorse, I’m not surprised by anything the male race decides to do. 

I wandered around the valleys and peaks, and finally made my way to the village of Phortse after meeting some North Face climbers and a National Geographic film crew (more on this later). I was invited to join a graduation ceremony as a guest of honor, and was dressed up in traditional Sherpa clothing and offered white Tibetan scarves (you can keep them, re-gift them or hang them at the top of a mountain pass or on a bridge). That evening there was a party during which many glasses of chang were consumed (an alcoholic, homemade, rice-drink that is easily confused with milk tea if you aren’t too careful). Sherpa dancing and singing ensued—it’s a mixture between irish kicking, stomping, line dancing and throat-singing. Several days in Phortse with a good crew of new acquaintances, and I decided it was time to get to Everest Base Camp.

The North Face climbers
 





















It took me one day to get from 3800 meters to 5200 meters at the village of Gorak Shep. Along the way were great views of one of my favourite mountains-Ama Dablam. I intend to climb it someday in the future if everything turns out. My brown trekking pants finally gave way and ripped, so that it looked like I was wearing short shorts. I gave them a brief funeral and continued.

My favorite mountain
The next day I set out for the base camp---an easy one hour walk across the Khumbu Glacier. The trail constantly shifts, and the cairns built as a way to find your way, make things more confusing. I ended up walking straight up to the wall of one of the mountains, so that I was maybe 10 km away from China. After some meandering on the glacier and some careful crevasse-evasion, I found the base camp (not anything remotely exciting---you can’t even see Everest).
Me+Everest
Not actually Everest Base Camp, but this rock is more picturesque than the actual basecamp
Hard to get lost up here

Bored, I headed up to a neighbouring peak at 5600 meters that proved to be much more adrenaline-pumping than I’d expected. Climbing up the scree slope to a great view of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Pumo Ri was easy, but the descent was more like gliding on unstable sand with big boulders waiting to bruise your toes in between. 

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