Third and last part of the report from the Nepalese mountains adventure.. walk with me on the Himalayas!
DAY 11: COLD
Short but very tough day. Short also because we leave very late in the morning, breakfast, packing and paying the massive bill (37.000 rupees) obviate our 6 am wakeup effort. After an inital mellow section, we face a knee-destroying descent and subsequent breath killer ascent, to finally land at about 3.900 mt to a village called Tengboche, which hosts a fantastic Buddhist monastery.
This is the first day of REAL COLD, which together with the clouds and grey light demotivates me a bit. I freeze at night, my sleeping bag is too thin, I sleep very bad and the next morning my legs ache.
DAY 12: CHANTING TREES
The opening of today perfectly countermeasures the grey closure of yesterday: at 7 I attend the morning chants in the monastery, really beautiful. I attended something like this in Japan two years ago, but here there’s a different vibe: Tibet is near, and many in this region are Tibetan refugees. The owner of the lodge we stayed for the night lived in Tibet for 20 years before fleeing to the other side of the border.
As I get out of the chamber, the Sun heats my body up! A fantastic, warm light clears the sky so that we’re able to see the peaks that surround the town: we are really at the Top of the World now.
As we walk to the next destination (at about 4.400 mt), I really feel strongly the oxigen reduction. We’re on the way to 50% oxigen level in the air, and every step takes more energy. Also, along the way we loose the trees: the vegetation is now some dark green grass and moss on the rocks.
DAY 13: CASUALTIES
We walk up to about 4.800 mt, and this is the first day with a roasting sun through a thinner atmosphere. The suncream is now absolutely essential.
The walk is definitely gentle compared to previous days, but today is also the day when the most health drama happens.
Greg, Peter, Guillame and I get to destination first, so we sit down with a chai tea to wait for the others, as usual. But only a few hours later Gopal, the guide, shows up, alone. What happened is that David felt very bad due to an intestinal infection (figure out the details yourself) so he had to redescend immediately and seek medical attention. Gopal went with him to a village called Periche, a few hundred meters lower, and Joel, who was struggling with walking from the beginning, seized the opportunity to go with him. They won’t make it to the Base Camp.
We’re all shocked by the news, but the drama continues: at night, also Peter and Greg seem to be victims of the same infection as David; Guillame laments headache and other mild altitude sickness symptoms, and, incredibly, same does Gopal: he feels he climbed too fast (600 meters in 2 hours and a half) and he goes to sleep.
In all this uncertainty, for once I’m the one who seems to be in better shape: I feel very good and even the cold is not bothering me as much as before! This makes me finally grasp the importance of the gear you use, beside your own body: I spent quite some money in it but it’s totally worth it. The boots I’m using are the best I’ve ever had and so is all the rest, t-shirts, jacket, socks and so on!
Walking among a lot of other people is different, it for sure spoils the experience, but at the same time it gives you some comfort, you’re never alone and you will never get lost.
DAY 14: EVEREST BASE CAMP!
Today’s walk is technically not very demanding, but we are ascending from 4.900 meters and the lack of oxygen makes it extremely difficult. Ten steps and the heart rate skyrockets, the breathing is difficult and you feel like you can’t get enough air in your lungs. The landscape is totally lunar, the only thing we walk on is rocks. We get to Gorak Shep, for lunchtime: in the afternoon, we’ll do a round trip to the Everest Base Camp!
Without backpacks it’s slightly easier, but still a killer walk to 5.400 meters, the highest point I’ve ever reached on the planet! As we walk there in the cloudless sky, the summit of Mount Everest is so close it seems you could touch it just stretching out your arm!
What an amazing feeling to get there! An incredible sense of accomplishment, unparalleled during the trek! We are right next to some incredible glaciers which, by melting, create all the streams that become rivers thousands of meters below. I’ve never been in such an environment before!
On the way back, I begin to experience the altitude sickness symptoms. By the time we get back to Gorak Shep, my head hurts and I feel dizzy, so I drink some water and go to bed. Luckily, one hour power nap rebalances my body and I’m ready for a great night in the cozy hall of the lodge, where John and I improvise a concert with guitar and harmonica respectively! A lot of singing and fun, special mention for “Oh Susanna”, “Aude Lane Syng” and “Blowing in The Wind”!
At some point at night I go outside the lodge to pee, and I witness such a rich sky that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a similar one, or at least not in a long time. The Milky Way is so intense, there are so many stars up there, the sky is all lit up! Too bad that the cold is humanly unbearable and I have to promptly go back in.
DAY 15 TO 17: DESCENT
Mission accomplished, now it’s time to descend back to Lukla to catch the plane that will bring us back to Kathmandu. From here on, we’ll be walking down the same steps we walked on the way up. So what before was discovery now is experience, and we are the ones who get asked by other trekkers “..how far is XYZ?”. The descent is very steep – just as steep as it was on the way up – On the way down my knee hurts a bit more, it reminds me of Norway but not half as painful. Also, I get a bit of a cold, for a couple of nights I’m all clogged up but well, if these two annoyances are the tax to pay to have been at the slopes of the highest peak on Earth, then I can be happy with it!
On the second descent day, we notice how the tourist flux is now even more than before: we cross caravan of people ascending on the same way. They’re mostly people in their 40-50ies, coincidentally Canadians. Someone climbs with the iPod on, someone climbs while writing stuff on the iPhone, someone has his iPad ready. It feels like Apple has conquered Everest before them, and the guiding sherpas have to do a lot of motivational work, pushing people up when they’re tired. At some point the sherpa behaves exactly like the dudes who spur the yaks up.
The day before getting to Lukla is very special: being a long day, Guillame and I start to push from the beginning, but the effort is eased by the fact that we’re now a lot lower than what we’ve been used to in the last days! The difference is huge: now to recover from a quick, steep climb is enough to walk slower instead of stopping, we get so much more oxygen that is a blessing for our heart, used to make to the most of any small molecule and to have to pump a lot more blood in circle to carry the same amount!
Mt. Everest The Emperor is now out of sight, unmovable on his throne. It’s remarkable how you never get to see it in its entirely, not even when you’re touching his feet. You are given to see the obsidian summit, which stands above anything else, but the rest is always shielded by other lower mountains. Exactly like guards and courtiers always protect an Emperor.
Second part of the report from the Jiri to Everest Base Camp trek! Things start to get tall and cold…
DAY 5: DONKEYS
Today’s walk starts easy: the altitude sickness is gone and for the whole morning we walk on the ridge of a mountain, which is flattish and offers amazing views. In the afternoon we climb a bit steeper till we reach another peak, about 3.000 meters high, where we have the best Dal Bath so far. The “Dal Bath” is probably the most typical dish in Nepal and it’s what we’ve been eating the most throughout the trek. It’s basically rice with some vegetables and a lentils soup to top it all. A great feature of this dish is that the cook will come by for a free refill once your plate is empty. After lunch we descend, the pace is today set by donkeys (sic).
Today is the first day I walk without the knee support, and at the end the right knee hurts a bit. Also, two members of our crew (we’re 6 in total) are using a porter to carry their bags. The porter is Robin, and despite the incredible weight he carries he’s a “fast motherfucker”! I could barely lift his load and could have maybe walked on a straight line with it but it felt absolutely impossible to do anything more than that.
Life here up in the mountains seems to have stopped in time, or maybe it’s just a lot slower than in the western world. There’s no sign of modern technology, except for some battery powered radios that are almost in every little hut we pass by.
DAY 6: WILDLIFE
Today there’s a lot more wildlife on the trail, from huge butterflies to noisy insects, and at some point we crossed ways with a green snake which is supposedly incredibly dangerous, I think it was a pit viper. Gopal (our guide) lets us give a peek and then throws it away with the stick.
As we walk we say and receive a lot of “Namaste”, the Nepalese hallo which literally means “I see God in you”. We cross a suspended bridge of 105 meters over what is called the “Milk River”. Also, it’s another day walking with the donkeys. At a little village I stop one moment to check a blister, when the donkeys arrive from behind: it feels like the scene of The Lion King when Mufasa dies!
DAY 7: HARMONIC RUN
As I wake up, my left foot’s toes are all covered in coagulated blood. A leech has probably got there while I was washing myself at the fountain the night before. While I wait for the others in the morning, I get all excited about playing the harmonica and I even manage to pull out “Auld Lane Syng”! It’s an easy walk today, we get to destination in time and with a wonderful weather.
For the first time after a week of walking I think I notice that my body is growing more powerful. At lunchtime, Greg and I run ahead to order food before the other arrives: it’s a crazy 20 minutes fast run on a descent next to sheer drops, potentially deadly but definitely a lot of fun! It really felt like using my legs at their fullest, and still they don’t hurt!
DAY 8: GLOBALIZATION
Today it’s the day we are going to meet Guillame, another friend, in a town called Phakding (yes, you read it exactly like that). Background: 90% of the trekkers that go to the Everest Base Camp start the walk from Lukla, a town up in the mountains with a landing lane for airplanes. We started all the way in the back, from Jiri, which was the traditional route in centuries. Most people fly to Lukla to spare one week of walking. Guillame didn’t have enough time to walk with us so he flew there and joined us at the intersection of the trails. Peter, Greg and I walk very fast so we’re there around 14, and meet Guillame.
The trek changes face today. Mass of trekkers appear, whereas so far the trail was more or less only for us. Loads of people who just got off a plane – you recognize them because their clothes are clean and they don’t smell. Roads are now paved with stones. Everything is more expensive. The locals are less friendly. Everything is more neat, houses are in bricks and not in wood and You feel a new pressure not to pee just behind any tree.
We meet indeed a lot of other (very nice) international people, and the night ends in a bar playing pool with AC/DC music as soundtrack. It’s like being in Europe, only here everything is made out of plastic.
DAY 9 AND 10: FIRST PART, CHECK!
A very tough day, from Phakding (2.600 mt) we reach Namche Bazaar (3.400 mt), through rocky ups and downs and a final, steep climb which seems to never end. We officially completed the first part of the trek, and will soon start the second and final one.
From now on we walk with yaks instead! Hairy creatures similar to cows but slightly bigger, they have long horns and walk wobbling! The town is big, and it features shops, pharmacies and even a couple of bakeries! Water is increasingly expensive so I decide to buy purifying pills and will use those hereafter. We spend the night playing chess or pool, which are after all a nice change from the cards or the harmonica!
We are entering the himalayan core now, and the long awaited majestic peaks start to appear around us. We take the next day off for acclimatisation purposes, still in the morning we get up at 5:30 am and walk some 20 minutes to be rewarded with the first view of the Emperor in the far distance!
I’m back in one piece from the 17-days trek in Nepal! We’ve crossed incredible landscapes, seen breathtaking sceneries and ate delicious food. It’s clearly an impossible task to describe everything properly, I’ll try to do a quick day-by-day journal.
The title is a reference to a previous story I wrote, in that case it was “His Majesty” and I was talking about the Mt. Fuji in Japan. This time around, our ultimate goal was the highest mountain on the planet, the emperor Mt. Everest.
DAY ZERO: bus from Kathmandu to Jiri
The adventure starts with a bus journey from Nepal’s capital city to Jiri, the village where our trek will start. It’s a ten hours bumpy bus ride on an unpaved road, with any kind of people and animals on the bus, including a goat and an unconscious person carried like a backpack. There is a lot of physical contact with everybody else, at some point the kid next to me simply fell asleep on my shoulder.
From the window, we see a lot of kids walking along the road, going from one village to another, probably to school since they all wear a blue uniform. At some point we decide to travel for a bit on the roof, which is actually much better as we get a lot of cool views… until it starts to rain. We don’t want to go back inside, so we shelter ourselves with some plastic sheet we found there.
DAY 1: FIRST STEPS
It starts hard with lots of ups and downs, but also lots of breaks—we take it really easy, resting every 10 minutes. We don’t push like we would do with Carlos, I guess it’s because our guide Gopal knows it’s best for the first day to avoid too much stress on legs and knees, also because the trail gives us immediately a lot of ups and downs! We go through houses and terraced fields, and what I immediately feel is that what for us is a holiday trail, for them is a normal road. Kids go to school everyday on that trail, any good is transported on it, that’s where trade occur. Amazingly, for these people it’s so normal that even when the terrain is rocky, slippery or muddy, they walk in flip-flops! All the people we meet are used to a life in mud and dirt, and are very loose about their clothes or themselves getting dirty. The Western concept of perpetual cleanliness doesn’t exist here. Kids are happy to be taken on pictures, they want to see it after and laugh very hard!
During the breaks I start playing the armonica that David gave me, I don’t think about notes or tones but I rather try to get something nice out of it. At dusk we arrive at our lodge, light is provided by candles and we play Black Queen with some nepalis, the forfait is a red chili and a local guy sings a mantra because he doesn’t want to have to eat it!
DAY 2: LEECHES
We don’t walk long today as the day is cursed from the beginning by a heavy rain. The main event though is the encounter with many leeches!! Horrible, horrible creatures. They stick to your skin and suck blood till they’re full and fall off. And the worst thing is not even the blood sucking, but the fact that they inject you an anti-coagulant, so that the wound will keep bleeding for up to two hours after the parasite left! At night we’re all bloody and our clothes have big red spots.
We stop at a little village that boasts a little buddhist monastery. Only three young monks live there and they open it for us to visit, showing us their own work. Then early to bed as we plan to get up at 410 the next day.
Tragic event of the day somehow the heavy rain made it into one of the pockets of my jacket and reached my camera, which fills up with water. The guy at the lodge where we’re staying has a screwdriver, I open the camera up and try to get the water out of it, but it doesn’t feel good so I’m quite desperate about it!
DAY 3: THE BREAKTHROUGH
We wake up at 4:10 to compensate the previous day! Lots of stuff happens today we kick ass in the morning, getting to the top of a very steep climb. Peter, Greg and I get there first and we stop at a tea house, where I get to play some sort of volleyball with the kids and help one of them with her English homework. Any kids speaks the language better than any adult. At some point the lady offers us an enormous brick of hash and another one of weed!
While yesterday it was an old woman who set the pace on the hill, today it’s a cow. Leeches have become normal, but at night I have an unpleasant surprise. A thick leech falls off my body, can’t say where from. A quick inspection reveals that it was on my thigh, VERY close to the intimate parts! Blood pours out of the little wound. I patch it with plasters and paper tissues, but one and a half hour later it hasn’t stopped yet! I kinda panic and go to the kitchen where all the locals are. I have the honour to be given two traditional treatments my wound is rubbed with some special leaves, but it doesn’t seem to work, so the owner of the lodge decides to use the heavy artillery. He comes back warming up in his hands a black stuff with the consistency of oil, which looks like the X-Files’s Black Cancer, that he subsequently spreads on my thigh. I put a new big plaster on the spot and after a while the bleeding stops. From this point on we check each other very often for leeches!
From today on, we walk together with a lot of porters. These little nepalis carry SO MUCH STUFF it’s unbeliavable, and are perfectly organized against the rain!
DAY 4: ALTITUDE SICKNESS
In the morning, I wear the wet stuff from the night before (I’d washed it as it was too bloody) and start walking very cold in the first ten minutes, after half an hour everything is dry. We take less breaks now, and today is the first day that we actually walk any scheduled kilometer! Unfortunately the sun is still very shy and the beautiful landscapes are often covered by clouds. We cross a pass at 3.500 meters, where it’s quite cold.
During the descent, I begin to feel a light headache. By the time we reach our lodge few hours later, it has become a lot stronger and more painful, and it’s been joined by loss of appetite and strong nausea. It’s definitely altitude sickness and I feel like crap. We have probably climbed too fast and I haven’t drunk enough water. Joel gives me Diamox, an ad-hoc medicament, and I go to sleep while the others are busy playing cards. We are now 2.800 meters high, 700 meters lower than the pass, and the next morning I feel very good. That means that my acclimatisation line is somewhere above three thousands meters, which will be a very useful knowledge some days later, when we’ll be approaching the highest mountains of all…