Saturday, May 03, 2008

Nepal & Everest Base Camp

I’ve just returned to Kathmandu from a 15-day trek to Mt Everest Base Camp. To all those skeptics out there- Yes, I was able to survive 2 weeks without alcohol, nightlife, or girls.

Nepal was a fascinating country, and I can’t wait to go back and explore further its stunning scenery, extraordinary mountains, warm and friendly people, and diversity of environments, not to mention it’s the only country I’ve been to where 90%+ of the population wears North Face clothing (fake, manufactured in Kathmandu, complete with all labels!). I was accompanied on this hike by Sharbani, the sister of a close b-school friend of mine, and it was great to have the company in the endless expanse of the Himalaya. An English girl, Katie, on her Spring Break, made up the third on our trek, along with our fearless guide, Dawa (“Papa”) Sherpa, and porters.

Kathmandu is an interesting town, plenty to see (but pollution worse than Moscow), and a tourist district that reminds me of Bangkok (without the sleaze, for better or worse). I was fortunate to meet up with Kenna, a b-school friend who’s also taking a year off work, and we shared some stories of life on the road.

The trek itself was not a walk in the park. We hiked over 160km, and climbed a total of over 6,000m, with our highest peak of Kala Pattar at 5,550m. Constant headaches, ice in our water bottles in the mornings, and only 3 quasi-showers in 2 weeks made it a challenging experience. During our considerable downtime, in addition to attempting to read my first Russian novel (ouch), I read a book about a guy who was imprisoned in Korea, and there were several parallels I could relate to from our trek. ; )

The Himalayas were extraordinary. Waking up every morning to the highest mountains in the world surrounding us, hiking through lush valleys, across high passes, glacial rivers, and dizzying drops from the side of the trail was an unforgettable experience.

We shared the trail with other trekkers and climbers, but also a myriad of heavily laden local porters (their loads can be over 100kg!), their yaks, as well as assorted wildlife including goats, deer, and birds. En route we passed charming villages, stopped at ancient monasteries, and marvelled at the thousands of religious chortens and carved Buddhist prayer stones.

The trek itself started at relatively low Lukla, and for the next week we steadily progressed upwards through Namche Bazar, Tengboche and Dingboche, before reaching the high valleys and our last base at Gorak Shep (5,150m) before hitting Everest Base Camp.

After reading so many stories about Everest expeditions over the years, it was surreal to actually be hiking alongside (and on) the Khumbu Glacier, with peaks such as Lhotse (8,500m), Nuptse (7,900m), and of course Everest (8,850m) towering over us.

We hiked up to Base Camp where, due to the arrival of the Olympic torch on the Tibet side, the Chinese had requested no summit attempts until May 10, as well as a media blackout from Nepal. As a result, over 60 expeditions were parked at Base Camp, making it a crowded and colourful place, right on the glacier at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall. The day we were there a climber had been expelled from Base Camp for having a pro-Tibet flag in his belongings.

That evening, I made a momentous effort (at over 5,000m, every movement is an effort) to climb Kala Pattar and take sunset pictures of Everest & the Khumbu valley. At 5am the following morning, we climbed to the peak of Kala Pattar for stunning sunrise views of the valley. After this much pain and exertion at below 6,000m, I have NO desire to climb Everest itself, and much respect for those who do!

After 11+ days of altitude and endless fried food and Dal Bhat, we started back and made rapid progress towards Lukla, with some scenic detours to Pheriche and Porche along the way.
As Everest faded from view, and the headaches receded with every step downwards, we were left with amazing memories, some great photos, and serious longings for running water, hot showers, fresh food, and of course, a well-deserved drink!

The photos are here.

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