Everest Base Camp
In October 2010, Next Level Expeditions President Kevin Noe and long time friend and business partner David Fedler traveled to the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal to complete the three week journey to Everest Base Camp. The following trip report chronicles [by David Fedler] the journey, the characters we met along the way, the culture, and the excitement of this life changing adventure. It was in the Khumbu that Next Level Expeditions was born.
Saturday October 2nd, 2010: Denver to Doha, Qatar
Departure day. Leaving Denver for Dulles on UA757. We always dread the “US hop” to the East Coast or West Coast for an international trip. Your caught in a web of domestic travelers who think their 2 hour journey is the most important crisis facing the world on that given day.
After an uneventful flight and transfer, we are on Qatar Airways for a 14 hour flight to Doha. While many business travelers (myself included) know about the exceptional service on Singapore Airlines, very few have any idea how great the service and facilities are on emerging market airlines. Jet Airways in India and Qatar Airways in Qatar are two of the finest international flights I’ve ever been on. Aside from the nice amenities, it is really the service that stands out. On US airlines, international flights seem to be staffed by senior personnel that more often than not, seem to find you an inconvenience. On Jet and Qatar, the staff is typically younger people, committed to customer service, and really enjoying the opportunity to see the world. Our main guy was actually from Kathmandu on this flight and he was thrilled to talk with us about Nepal and the Khumbu region.
We arrived in Doha at about 6:30pm for a seven hour layover. It was about 37 degrees C…
Monday October 4th, 2010: Kathmandu
We arrived in Kathmandu at around 8:30am. After 30 hours of travel, I would have been expecting to be very tired and dreading a whole additional “day” before being able to sleep. However, we were amazingly refreshed. Great flights, great food, good sleep. As we arrived, we got out first glimpse of the Himalayas through the window. Just amazing… We quickly cleared customs, paid our $40 for a sixty day visa, and got our bags. Man, usually my yellow North Face bag sticks out like a sore thumb – not here. There must have been 100 of them.
We found our driver, Rom, and by 9am we were on the way to the Hotel Tibet. The hotel is a nice facility, not terribly fancy, but one used by a lot of the Everest/Himalayan expeditions that you read about (Into Thin Air, Dark Summit, etc.). In fact, we saw Russell Brice, the leading outfitter from HIMEX, in the lobby several times. The hotel is tucked into a not so busy area of “K’du” (no more references to Kathmandu…) close to Thamel, the Royal Palace (now a museum), etc. Nice views of the surrounding foothills.
The weather is beautiful – about 80degrees F. It feels much like Denver; maybe a bit more humid as the monsoon arrived late this year and hasn’t quite left yet. The monsoon flow was going to prove to be very problematic for a lot of travelers this fall.
We quickly met Jwalant (the founder of Grand Asian Journeys and partner in his family run business Crystal Mountain Treks). If you are ever interested in going to Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and other areas in the region, we give our highest recommendation to Jwalant and his family and team. Wonderful hosts. Kevin decided to spend the afternoon sleeping while I hung out on the porch. K’du reminds me of India, but even though it is much more hectic than 10 years ago, it is much calmer and relaxing than India in my opinion.
Our teammates for the journey are a diverse and exciting group. Joyce is a 69 year old grandmother and retired Chair of Biological Sciences at Webster University. This is one amazing and inspirational woman. She has traveled the world and is undertaking a very strenuous journey with us. As I said many times during this trip, if I am doing the types of things at 69 that she does, I’ll consider myself extremely fortunate.
Robin, her daughter, lives in Oregon and is an avid outdoor person with a lot of experience. As an RN, she is really interesting to talk to about the trek and life in general.
Jim and Jack are a hilarious couple from San Francisco. Jim works in architecture and Jack as a General Contractor. I call them the “odd couple” and they keep us laughing with their exploits. Jim in particular is an accomplished trekker and is returning to the Khumbu for the second time. Wonderful guys, very fun to hang with, play cards with, and in general learn from their experiences. They are only going to Tengboche with us, but we hope to kidnap them for the rest of the journey.
At dinner tonight, we got to experience a traditional Nepalese dinner complete with dancing. There are 60 different ethnic groups in Nepal, which makes for a diverse and challenging culture. The people seem genuinely happy as they all vie for their piece of the economic and political pie. Nepal has experienced a lot of turmoil in its history and the past 10-20 years have been no exception. The royal family has been involved in a massacre at the hands of a crown prince and ultimately in 2006, fell out of power by constituent vote. The vote occurred after a 10 year rebellion by Maoist rebels and a subsequent peace accord that really hurt the tourism industry. The government is plagued by political tensions as the Maoists swept into power (though elections), fell out of power, and coalitions have attempted to govern.
A landlocked country, Nepal is bordered on three sides by India and one by China. The political drama is apparently very interesting as India, China, and the US all have vested interests there given the unique position geographically that Nepal has. Nepal has about 30 million people and a rich geography. Eight of the world’s tallest mountains are in the Nepalese Himalaya. In fact, there are nearly 250 peaks over 20,000 feet. The people are a mix on Hindu, Buddhist, and some smaller percentage practice various religions including Islam and Christianity. Although there are more practicing Hindu’s, the Buddhist are the most commonly linked to Nepal and in fact, Nepal is the birthplace of the Buddha. About half the population lives on less than $450 per year, however, you see a lot of schools and motivated young entrepreneurs in the country.
Tuesday October 5th, 2010:
Kevin and woke up about 4am and went up to the rooftop of the Hotel Tibet to watch the sunrise. We saw thousands of birds flying across the sky in the same direction – north. I have no idea if this was meaningful or not, but it was interesting. Very peaceful morning with mist and mountains. During a fairly basic and uninteresting breakfast, we discussed our idea regarding corporate and non profit leadership development programs and adventure. We believe there is a real opportunity in places like Colorado and Nepal to experience the wonder of the natural world and it’s ability to inspire. Having spent 20 years building international teams, developing leaders, and inspiring people to reach their potential, the challenge of tying in our backgrounds in adventure (travel, trekking, mountaineering, whitewater, SCUBA, etc.) is really intriguing. As we have always said – everything happens for a reason. This trip would prove to be once again validation of this belief… More on this later…
For the rest of the day, we focused our attention on K’du and two of its more important Buddhist and Hindu locations. Our first stop was the Bodhnath Stupa. This ancient stupa is one of the largest in the world and is also one of Nepal’s holiest sites. Behind the stupa is one of the many “Gompas” or monasteries that was built by Tibetan refugees. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bodhnath stupa was built in the 700’s AD. Stupas are actually completely solid (i.e. no internal chambers) and are said to contain the remains of the Buddha or other important persons. It is thought that the stupa represents the five purified elements:
- The square base represents the earth.
- The dome represents water.
- The conical spire represents fire.
- The upper lotus and moon represent air.
- The sun and dissolving point represent space.
There are prayer wheels surrounding the stupa, which can be spun as you walk by (keeping the wheels on your right) and chant “Om Mani Padme Hum”. This phrase is constantly heard, sung, and chanted in Nepal. It has no literal English translation but is said to contain every single aspect of the 84,000 sections of the Buddha’s teachings (Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche). Interpretations of “manipadme” include “jewel in the lotus” .
Prayer flags (green, yellow, red, white, and blue) with “om mani padme hum” imprinted on them are strung from the stupa. Prayer beads with 108 beads are used as well.
Our second stop would prove to be very interesting as well. The Pashupatinath Temple is one of the biggest Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva in the world. Sitting on the banks of the (very polluted) Bagmati River. The three main Hindu gods are Shiva (the Destroyer), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Brahma (the Creator). Each of these gods have their own temples in Pashupatinath with specific symbols
At this temple, Hindu’s bring the sick and infirm to die. If a Hindu dies elsewhere, they bring him to this temple (or similar) as quickly as possible to start the ritual, which begins with the body being wrapped, and the feet dipped in the river. This is for the mourning. Then, the body is prepared for cremation on one of the many cremation sites along the river. All of this is very public and indeed we witnessed these stages occurring during our visit. Once the cremation is complete, all of the ashes and everything else are swept into the river, which is a tributary for the Ganges.
After this, we visited the city of Patan. There are actually three cities in the Kathmandu Valley: K’du, Patan, and Baktaphur. Patan is known for its tradition of arts and crafts as well as the Patan Durbar Square with its palaces. First settled around 300BC, it now contains the UNESCO World Heritage site of Durbar Square as its most famous site. Once the residence of the Malia rulers of the Patan state, it is now a museum. Hindu and Buddhist temples are found here and we even saw one where Ox are sacrificed and their intestines hung over the front door – for good luck maybe…
We got some last minute trip shopping done in the Thamel district and then got to an early bed for the next morning’s departure to Lukla.
Wednesday October 6th ,2010: Lukla
We were up early again to depart for the airport at 6am. We met our guide Monju who is from the Khumbu region and has been guiding for the past twenty years. Monju currently lives in K’du with his wife and three boys (10, 8, and 6). He told us that he does the majority of his treks in October – December and April – May.
When we arrived at the domestic terminal for our flight, it was the semi-controlled chaos we had expected it would be. After weighing and loading our bags, we got our boarding passes for Agni Air flight #103 to Lukla. The flight from K’du to Lukla is very dramatic. You get some great views of the valley and then surrounding terraced farms and villages. As the Himalaya’s come into view, it is even more dramatic. You fly over ridges that seem like less than 1000’ below the plane and then watch as the valley drops off dramatically to the rivers. As you approach Tenzing Hillary airport in Lukla, you are reminded that the History Channel recently named this airport as the #1 Most Extreme in the world.
Our landing was extremely smooth. However, later that week, another plane would crash into the stone wall at the end of the runway. No one was hurt though! We quickly gathered our bags and met the rest of our team including our assistant guide Parshu and our porters. As we started walking out of town, we passed “Starbucks”. Real or not, while this might not seem too surprising, keep in mind there are absolutely no signs of “chain” type establishments anywhere in the Khumbu save for this Starbucks.
We then hit the trail, which descended pretty quickly from 9400’ to about 8200’ at the Dudh Koshi (Milk River). The “trail” is the main thoroughfare in the whole Khumbu region – there are no roads or cars of any kind. Trekkers, porters, yaks, and Dzopkyo (a hybrid of yak and cow) all share the trail. Virtually everything, save for locally grown food, is flown into Lukla and then carried into the Khumbu. Amazingly we followed one porter carrying 200pounds of beer on his load. He earned about $40 for this.
Our first destination was Phakding, along the Dudh Koshi. The trail involved going up and down steep canyons, across suspension bridges, and passing by 20,000’ peaks that dominate the region. There are numerous guest houses and lodges along the way, always inviting you to stop in for a bite to eat. There are also many Buddhist symbols (chortens, prayer wheels, and monasteries) along the way. You make a special effort to keep them on your right hand side as you pass.
The people you meet along the trail are amazingly friendly. The guides all seem to know each other and you get the feeling you are a guest in their rather large village. We arrived in Phakding to a nice dinner of steamed momos, garlic soup, and tea. You quickly find that going to bed at 8pm and getting up at 5am is going to be the norm!
Thursday October 7th, 2010: Namche Bazar
We woke up early and spent the early morning hours with the various porters as they made their way towards Namche Bazar (our destination) or back to Lukla depending on their load status. We were looking at a 6 hour walk to Namche and an elevation rise from 8400’ to 11,300’. This was going to be an exciting, but challenging day. As we made our way to Jorsale, we crossed the Dudh Koshi many times on suspension bridges.
At Monjo, we entered Sagarmatha National Park and officially were on our way. Right after lunch, we started the uphill climb to Namche. One of the more interesting suspension bridges was the Larja Bridge which crosses the Dudh Koshi 300’ above the river.
From this point forward, the scenery was spectacular, rivers 2000’ below you and high mountain peaks 10,000’+ above you. To our right, we would see Kyashar and Thamserku and to our left, Karelung, Nupla, and Kongde, and KongAfter several hours on the trail, we walked into Namche Bazar, which is the primary trading town in the Khumbu region.
Friday October 8th, 2010:
Friday would be our first acclimatization day. Quickly we realized that “acclimatization” is actually a long way to say “climb”. So we started our day with a pre dawn climb to the army base to watch the sunrise and get our first views of Everest. Of course, as you also quickly learn, seeing Everest is not something you are really going to do until you get to Kala Patthar. Everest is actually pretty well hidden behind Lohtse and the Lohtse ridge – but they are pretty spectacular in their own right.
We returned from this early expedition to the Hotel Tibet and ate breakfast. Tsampa was on the menu today. After this, we hiked straight up behind Namche Bazar, past the Syangboche Air Strip (and watch planes land right over our heads), and up the Everest View Hotel at 12,600’. The Everest View is amazing… first class all the way including pressurized rooms for tourists who charter a flight into Syangboche and don’t bother or can’t acclimatize. From the Everest View, we could see great views of Ama Dablam, which is probably the most beautiful mountain in the Khumbu region (and maybe the world) as well as a panorama of the next few days of our trek.
After returning to Namche Bazar, we visited the weekly market in which people from around the region come to buy and trade virtually everything imaginable.
Saturday October 9th, 2010: Tengboche
We awoke Saturday morning around 6am to grab coffee and breakfast. Fried eggs, potatoes, and toast were on order today. Amazingly, with a wireless internet connection, I was able to use a VOIP App for my iPAD called TruPhone and call from Nepal to Denver for free. A good days work ahead of us to trek to Tengboche. Leaving Namche Bazar around 7:30, we hiked the lower trails underneath Syangboche and the Everest View Hotel. We passed the Tenzing Norgay Memorial Stupa, which commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Tenzing-Hillary first ascent of Everest. 3000’ above the Dudh Koshi and 14,000’ below the summit of Ama Dablam, it is an ideal place for the memorial.
We passed through the village of Kyangjuma and the little shops and tea houses along the way. It is amazing that at 12,000’ you can be in thick forests with deciduous trees and high humidity (60-70%)– probably 65 degrees or so. Compared to Colorado at the same altitude, the humidity would be significantly lower, the temperature probably in the 40’s-50’s at this time of year, and mostly pine trees soon to give way to the treeline.
Descending from 12,000’, we rapidly reached the Dudh Koshi for yet another crossing at the village of Phungi Thanga. From here, it is straight up to 12,700’ and Tengboche. Lunch was definitely in order – we stuck to our diet of noodle soup, chapatti, and tea. After lunch, in our typical fashion, we decided to see how fast we could ascend. We made the trip from 10,500’ to 12,700’ in 1 hour and 25 minutes. We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves until we realized that Tengboche was socked in by weather and the clouds obscured any views. So, we went to the local bakery (quite good), the Tengboche Monastery (the monks were working on a sand mandala which was amazing), and more card playing with Robin, Joyce, Jim, and Jack.
Sunday October 10th, 2010: Dingboche
The day dawned with a few clouds but the sun was going to make its appearance. It is truly amazing to arrive at a place in the clouds and wake up the next morning to see the incredible views all around. Ama Dablam, Lohtse, Nuptse, the tip of Everest, and views all the way back to the Everest View Hotel and the ridges around Namche Bazar. An inspiring way to start the day.
As we began the trek to Dingboche, we walked through a Rhododendron forest at 13,000’ – just amazing. The views continued to be incredible as Kevin took 379 pictures throughout the course of the day. Of course, we had to cross the Dudh Koshi again which we did at Milinggo at 12,300’. Walking through Pangboche, we got a quick look at the monastery, knowing we would get a better view on our way back through. We stopped for lunch at Shomare, were the noodle soup became Wai Wai (a spicier version thank goodness!). Continuing our journey, we came across some great views of Pumori (a 23,500’ peak right in front of Everest) and monuments to lost Sherpas and climbers. We also saw rescue helicopters working their way up the valleys. We would later find out that on a typical day, at least 2-3 people are airlifted out of the Khumbu for a variety of altitude related illnesses.
We reached the confluence of the Dudh Koshi, which continues up to the Khumbu Glacier and the Imja Kholi, which comes from the Chhukhung Valley and its origins at the Ama Dablam, Lhotse, and Lhotse-Nup glaciers. Our plan was to follow the Imja Kholi to Dingboche. We climbed to 14,200’ and then descended briefly to Dingboche. It was 57 degrees when we arrived. The lodges are starting to decline in “quality” now with the rooms basically consisting of thin plywood walls and floors with shared “squat” toilets. The amorous Brazilian couple next door provided the nights entertainment…
We began checking our oxygen saturation and pulse levels. At sea level, you would expect oxy sat to be around 98%. In Dingboche, our levels were between 85-86% with pulse rates ranging from 74-88bpm.
Monday October 11th, 2010:
Today was another “acclimatization” day – meaning we climb. The day dawned cold and cloudy and we started to climb up the ridge right behind the lodge, basically vertically uphill to the Nangkartshang Gompa. From here, the weather cleared, opening up fantastic views of Ama Dablam, the Ama Dablam glacier, the whole Chhukhung Valley, the Dwwo glacier, Lobuche East and West, Cholatse, Tabuche Peak, Lohtse, and Island Peak. We climbed an unnamed peak at 16,675’ right below Nangkar Tshang, which is 18,500’. This peak represented the highest point that we had ever climbed given our training in Colorado was all at 14,000’. Even better was absolutely zero sign of AMS (acute mountain sickness). On the hike back down, the weather again clouded over and would remain this way for the rest of the day.
At this point, lodge living is starting to get old. While we appreciate the warmth of the yak dung stoves and the solar powered lights, it is pretty basic with lots of noise and assorted sanitary conditions. However, what was most depressing is that you have a lot of people, which although interesting to talk to – a lot of them are starting to get sick with gastro, AMS, and respiratory illnesses. Sitting around a cold lodge for two days with sick people left us itching to hit the trail for Dughla on Tuesday.
Tuesday October 12th, 2010: Dhukla
We woke up after a rainy night to cloudy, generally crappy weather. However, we are lucky. Flights into and out of Lukla have been cancelled for the past 3-4 days and the backlogs in Lukla and K’du must be horrible. We are happy to leave Dingboche behind and get on the trail for a relatively short trek to Dughla at 15,000’.
About halfway there, the skies opened up and the day became marvelous. Definitely one of the most beautiful that we had seen so far as Tabuche Peak, Cholatse, and Arakam Tse opened up in front of us. We also had great views of Pumori ahead and Ama Dablam behind.
We arrived in Dughla about 10am and had some tea. After setting up in the lodge and having some lunch (noodle soup, chapatti, tea… yes, it was becoming routine), we set out for the glacial lake, Chola Tsho and the terminus of the Chola glacier and Cholatse. The lake is at 15,000’ and the scenery just spectacular.
We got back to the lodge and at 7:30pm, they shut the lights off and told us to hit the sack. Good times…
Wednesday October 13th, 2010: Lobuche
The effects of living at high altitude are starting to set in now. Kevin experienced pretty bad headaches, poor sleep, and some AM vomiting – probably due to lack of food and taking medications for the headaches. Our appetites are way down now – which is actually not such a bad thing… Overall, we have been very fortunate as the effects are mild with no AMS or gastro-type diseases. You can’t really prevent these, you just hope for the best.
Weather wise, we awoke to a beautiful and warm day. The views are really incredible and when you combine these factors with a desire to be anywhere but a lodge, it makes a great way to start the day. We began our hike up to Lobuche by climbing 1000’ straight up from Dhugla to the terminus of the Khumbu Glacier. At the top, we found a great number of chortens honoring the Sherpa’s and other climbers who perished on Everest and the surrounding peaks. Scott Fisher – an experienced guide and renowned from the terrible 1996 season and books like Into Thin Air – has a chorten here.
As we trekked up the glacier, we eventually reached Lobuche. Lobuche is not much more than a couple of lodges along a fairly desolate stretch directly underneath Lobuche East and West (a couple of 20,000’ plus peaks). As this is the high season for trekking, lodging becomes more difficult to secure and we would up staying at the Kala Patthar lodge. For the first, and only, time on the trek, we wanted nothing to do with the place. The word “squalor” doesn’t do this place justice. The lodge is dug into the hillside, which means the “rooms” are down dimly lit halls and are tiny wooden boxes without windows or ventilation. The toilets are plastic “squat” style with no real plumbing. Stuff just “goes” somewhere… and judging by the smell, somewhere is not very far away. With the level of respiratory, gastro, and AMS related illnesses being very high; there was no reason to stay in the lodge much at all. We climbed the ridge between Lobuche and the glacier and spent a nice afternoon at 16,500+ feet admiring the landscape. It is very barren, but the high peaks, glacial moraine, and glaciers themselves make it beautiful.
In addition to the Lobuche’s, we were able to see the ridges that make the border of Nepal and Tibet. Chumbu (22,500’), Pumori, Lingtren (22,000’), and Khumbutse (22,000’) were within range. We also saw the Italian Research Center – called the Pyramid. Very strange to see this building all the way up here.
Back to the lodge that evening, we managed to gain about 1 hour of sleep. The smell from the toilets, yak dung and kerosene smoke, and general noise made our rooms feel like coffins. It may not be hell on earth, but it is definitely a suburb…
Thursday October 14th, 2010: Gorak Shep, Kala Patthar, and Pheriche
We decided to put some inspiration into our souls and purge the effects of Lobuche by targeting Everest Base Camp, summiting Kala Patthar, and then descending to Pheriche all in a single day. This was going to require 13 miles of trekking, 2,500’ of vertical gain followed by 4,600’ of drop. At a rapid pace, this was going to be about 11 hours of total travel.
We set out for Gorak Shep at 6am, refusing even to eat breakfast in the lodge. The hike to Gorak Shep was steep and rocky, following the Khumbu Glacier. The top elevation reached was 17,500’ before we dropped down to reach Gorak Shep, which was the original Everest Base Camp for the Swiss expeditions in the 1950’s. We arrived at 8am and set out quickly for the summit of Kala Patthar.
The hike to Kala Patthar gains about 1,400’ to the summit elevation of 18,500’. In Colorado, 1,400’ of elevation is strenuous, but not terrible. In the Himalayas, 1,400’ is pretty much covered in less than 3,000’ horizontally. This is steep… Physically, it was the hardest work we’ve done. Mentally, it was great because there is a cell phone tower in Gorak Shep and we were able to call back to the US and talk to our families. Without much food, the call home was a great energy boost and just what was needed to reach the summit.
It is only on this hike that you really see Mt. Everest. It is actually somewhat ironic how little you see of this mountain, in fact, from EBC, you can’t see it at all. We made the summit in 1 hour and 40 minutes. Given that 50% of the people that make this trek don’t reach the summit and the average time is 2-5 hours, we felt pretty good about ourselves. While we were tired and short of breath, there were no signs of headache or AMS.
When we reached the summit, we were able to catch our breath and realize that we had accomplished our main goal by reaching this point. Climbing fifteen “14ers” in Colorado was absolutely essential and well worth it. It was physically hard, but the emotional feelings were far more overwhelming. From here we could see:
- Pumori Base Camp
- Everest Base Camp
- Khumbu Glacier
- Khumbu Icefall
- Changri Sher Glacier
- Gorak Shep Glacier
- Changri Nup Glacier
After hanging around for about 20 minutes, we realized that it was time to go home. All the way home. So we did. We hiked back to Gorak Shep and arrived around 11:20am. We joined Monju, Parshu, Robin, and Joyce for lunch and then hiked down past Lobuche and Dhugla all the way down to Pheriche along the Dudh Koshi, arriving at 4:10pm.
We went to sleep at 8am and slept until 6:30am – not bad for 14,000’ – and awoke refreshed ready for another adventure.
Friday October 15th, 2010: Pheriche
As a result of summiting Kala Patthar early in the day and descending to Pheriche a day early, we found ourselves with a rest day. As it would turn out, this day of rest would turn out to be one of the most meaningful of the whole trip. We relaxed in the lodge and continued our brainstorming regarding executive level team building in an adventure environment. Our goals are to help foster stronger interpersonal relationships, build trust between team members, work through vulnerabilities, and help organizations get their teams on the same compass heading together. Having direct experience in the adventure based team-building concept, we know how powerful shared experiences can be in enabling these goals.
Adventure carries challenges and challenges build character. We think there is something to this. Apparently, others do to, for as we sat there that morning, we met Jeff Messner from World TEAM Sports – also a resident of Colorado, the first other Coloradoan we had seen on the trip. Jeff was working with a team that had just completed a climb of the 20,000’ mountain Lobuche. As Jeff was sharing the story, in walked Rex Pemberton, the youngest Australian ever to climb Mt. Everest and a key member of the Lobuche climbing team. Rex had just paraglided from the Lobuche high camp to Pheriche!
As the day went on, we learned more about the magnitude of what had occurred. The climbing group was made up of 11 US veterans, each of whom had been injured during tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their stories are simply amazing and are told on the Soldiers to the Summit Website (www.soldierstothesummit.org). An amazing team that included Colorado’s Erik Weihenmeyer and Jeff Evans was guiding these climbers. Erik is the only blind climber to have summited Everest and all of the “7 Summits”. Erik’s Everest Summit team from 10 years ago was with them on this adventure too. We met Brad and Sherman Bull, Didrik Johnck, filmmaker Michael Brown, and Charley Mace from this team. As the climbers made their way into town, a personal tradition that holds particular importance to us was given a chance to be revealed. Over the past twenty years, we have been fortunate to travel the world in our personal and business adventures. During these travels, anytime we meet a member of the military services, we take the time to thank them and if possible, buy them a beer or a meal. I think we can all agree that regardless of the politics, these men and women volunteer to be put in harms way. They make sacrifices that in the worst case can end their lives – all in the name of service. So that night in Pheriche, we were privileged to meet 11 amazing men and women, hear some of their stories, thank them for their service, and share some Everest Beer and Whiskey with them.
Saturday October 16th, 2010: Khumjung
Our journey today changed to one of “going home”. Our plan was to hike from Pheriche to Khumjung. The trekking time promised to be about 9 hours. From Pheriche to Pangboche, the weather was cloudy but not too bad. From that point forward, conditions deteriorated and after lunch in Phortse it started to rain. The rain continued pretty much relentlessly as we descended to the river at Phortse Thonga and steeply up the other side of the river to Mong. By the time we reached Khumjung, it had stopped raining and we were really happy to get out of our wet clothes and begin a rousing game of “Team Gin Rummy”. Even better was the crushing 10-1 defeat put upon Monju’s team.
Sunday October 17th, 2010: Phakding
We had hoped to see the sun today, but awoke to the same gray clouds. After breakfast, we hiked past the Khumjung Hillary School and up the hill towards Khunde and Syangboche. Passing by one of the gompa’s, we spun the prayer wheels and chanted “sunny skies”. As we passed the airstrip in Syangboche, we were surprised to see helicopters landing.
Down the steep hill from Syangboche was Namche Bazar. With the sun answering our chants and appearing, we took a break at the Everest Bakery and enjoyed coffee and some really good baked goods. Souvenir shopping was in order as the “carrying cost” of the remainder of the journey was relatively low.
After the time spent at higher elevations, it was nice to get back to shorts and light shirts as we walked down the trail towards the Larja Bridge. As we walked past the trekkers making the climb to Namche, we were reminded that it was just a week or so back when we were struggling along the same path. At the bottom, we hiked through a light rain to Jorsale and up to the entrance (or exit in our case) of Sagarmatha NP. Stopping in Monjo for lunch allowed the rain to catch back up to us and we had constant rain all the way back to Phakding. Let’s just say that rain and yak dung are a nasty combination.
We arrived in Phakding at the same lodge as our first night. It was good to be back and talk with the New Zealanders who were heading up for some climbing on Island Peak. Their stories regarding flights over the past two weeks were bleak at best. Lukla was closed again on Saturday and only 8 flights got out Sunday. We are scheduled to arrive in Lukla on Monday and leave Tuesday. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Monday October 18th, 2010: Lukla
We completed our trekking portion of the trip by walking to Lukla and arriving about 10:30am. By 11:30am, the clouds had rolled in and flights were cut off again. Keep in mind, that people had been waiting about four days to get out of Lukla at this point and the only other option besides flying is a 8-10 day hike followed by a 7 hour bus ride.
We checked into the Paradise Hotel and ran into Erik, Didrik, Sherman, Brad, and Steve Baskis (one of the soldiers – an amazing story…). We decided to head over to the “Starbucks” in Lukla and spent the afternoon hanging out with our new friends.
That evening, the desire to have some red meat for the first time in three weeks took over and I ordered the “Yak Sizzler”. I have no idea if it was yak, but it was pretty darn good. We were off to sleep in anticipation of what our travel day back to K’du was going to be like.
Tuesday October 19th, 2010: Back to K’du
We woke up on Tuesday and saw relatively clear skies. This was good news given that there was a four-day backlog of people trying to get out of Lukla back to Kathmandu. The bad news was that we were scheduled for “wave #4” of the planes (the planes fly from K’du to Lukla, pick up people, and return – that is wave #1) at roughly 11:30am. The odds of getting out didn’t look good – especially given that the first wave was delayed by fog in K’du of all places.
Our man Monju was huddled in a corner with the local folks obviously “working the deal” while we ate breakfast. Around 7:30, he came up and said “get your stuff, we’re going NOW”. Cash and influence control pretty much everything in Lukla – we were fortunate to have both on our side! It turned out that we would be hitching a ride on an old Russian Mil Mi-8 helicopter. So, off we went to the airport where we promptly walked in, walked through, bypassed the lines, chaos, and security. Out the backdoor, across the tarmac, and down the side of the runway where we sat and waited while planes landed 20’ to the left of us.
After about 20 minutes, this giant white helicopter flew in and landed about 20’ in front of us. We loaded up, and I mean loaded, and flew out. All in all, it was a great flight and a lot of fun. Plus, the airport closed right after we left…
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday October 20th-22nd, 2010: K’du then Denver
With our early arrival in K’du, we had a couple of days to hang out and see more of the area. We visited the Monkey Temple and Bhaktapur, which were pretty interesting. We also visited an orphanage where we met some amazing boys and girls between the ages of 5-17. The stories these kids have are tough and the future for them is even rougher. However, they were really thrilled to visit with us, look at pictures, and take some as well. It was tough to leave them behind…
After three weeks in Nepal, it was finally time to return to Colorado. As we boarded our flight for Qatar, Washington, and then Denver we were definitely excited to get back to our families. This experience clearly changed our lives for the better as we experienced powerful times and emotions, made some great new friends, and opened the doors for the next adventures.
the great adventure continues…