Friday, November 23, 2018

Finale - Back to Civilization

This is it.  We are going back to civilization.  We were told to be ready by 9:30am.  We are not hiking back out.  Instead the helicopter will be coming this morning and fly us back to Lukla.  What a thrill.
The 3 ladies were to go first, then the 3 guys, and finally Dilip and our bags.

Vicki, Ellen and Bert waited outside the tea-house by the helicopter pad.  They saw a few hikers being flown out by medical helicopters.  Altitude sickness is not picky.  It picks on unprepared hikers randomly.  Even strong, healthy individuals die from altitude sickness.  Luckily, most hikers have travel insurance.  The US$6,000 medical helicopter ride is a steep price if you are not covered by insurance.

A little after 9:30am we were told to go outside to wait for our helicopter.  The ladies have left.  Instead of flying straight to Lukla, we heard that the flight plan calls for us to be flonw to Periche first. At higher elevation, the helicopter cannot carry as heavy a load.  Periche is at about 13,907ft, about 2,000ft less than Gorak Shep.  Apparently, that makes a difference how much load the helicopter can carry.  The flight took a little over 5 minutes.  Watch the video below on YouTube:

Our helicopter arriving at Gorak Shep

Getting ready to land at Periche

Refueling from a Jerry Can

 After our entire group landed at Periche, the pilot flew 6 of us straight down to Lukla.  It was a flight that one cannot forget.  The view from up high of the places we hiked through the last few days was truly amazing.  We flew between the mountains and sometimes the pilot would fly just above places we could identify.  We saw the village of Tengboche from the air and easily identify its colorful monastery.  The flight was only about 9 minutes but it felt like a very long time.  Here is a YouTube video of the flight:

Our Pilot - Cool As A  Cucumber

Lukla Airport

Everest Summit Lodge in Lukla
We were very lucky to be blessed with beautiful weather.  Our helicopter landed in Lukla without any delay.  We checked into the Everest Summit Lodge before lunch and soon enough, we were in the dining room.  Stephanos had ensured that we reward ourselves with a stay at the best hotel in Lukla.  Indeed it was.  The lawn was beautifully manicured with colorful flowers.  The rooms were nice, by Nepal standard.  The meals and service were excellent.

After a hot shower and some rest, we were ready for a stroll through the "Big City" of Lukla.  We visited our assistant guide Dilip's family.  Instead of treating them to a dinner at the hotel, we opted to use the money to buy his family groceries.  It will probably last them about 3 weeks to a month.  The dinner would've satisfied them for a few hours.  Such is the inequity between us, the haves', and them, the have-nots'.

Dilip's 3 children on the left.  On the right are two of our porters

Dilip and his family

Groceries instead of a dinner
The next morning we were ready for a flight back to Kathmandu.  This time there was no delay.  We checked back into Hotel Tibet, had our lunch, and get our laundry ready to be washed.  We ended up spending our last 2 days in Kathmandu:  resting, relaxing, recovering, reminiscing, and shopping.  Anything that does not stress our tender bodies physically.  The extra day is a buffer in case our flight from Lukla to Kathmandu was canceled, as it happens often because of the weather.  Nineteen days after I arrived in Kathmandu, I am ready to go on to my next adventure in Bhutan.  The others are all flying back to the US, memorialize and brag about an adventure that we all will never forget.  Thanks TEAMIES!

Many thanks to the staff and guides at Dharma Adventures and Adventures Within Reach, for putting together a wonderful trip.  The money that we raised for Make A Difference Now (MAD) will go to deserving children in undeveloped countries.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

EBC Day 12 - The Final Hike

I woke up at 6am this morning, after having slept for 10 hours.  It shows how tired I was last night, after the tough hike from Lobuche to Gorak Shep and then climbing Kala Pathar.  But it's a great feeling this morning, knowing that this is the end of the trek.  Another mere 3 hours from Gorak Shep  to Everest Base Camp (EBC).  Everyone in our group felt refreshed and in high spirit.

We took our time and started hiking at about 8am.  We are in no rush because we are spending another night in Gorak Shep.   Generally, there are two groups that hike at different times.  The first are groups that have spent the night in Gorak Shep.  They start their hike very early in the morning.  They will take a short break when they return to Gorak Shep, then continue on their return hike.  They may stop at Periche or Tengboche.  They can hike faster and longer because they will be going mostly downhill.

The second group had probably spent the night before in Lobuche and started their hike early that morning.  They would've reached Gorak Shep at about 10 or 11am, take a short rest, then continue on to EBC.  Then they spend the night at Gorak Shep and hike Kala Pathar the next morning.

When we started, the trail was pretty sparse.  About an hour into the hike, we started encountering hikers from the first group coming in the other direction.  The trail was not difficult, although it was rocky in some places.  Being well-rested and in good spirits we walked at a fairly good pace.  We reached EBC in about 3 hours.

Everest Base Camp is where climbers trying to summit Mount Everest start their journey.  It's where they get all their equipment, guides, porters, and team members together before starting their climb.  Most climbing activities are in April or May, perhaps because of the warm weather.  Trekking activities, on the other hand, happen mostly between September and December.

Sign pointing to Kala Pathar and Everest Base Camp

Himalaya Lodge where we spent 2 nights in Gorak Shepp

A very rocky trail

Sign showing we are at EBC

Nutan, our guide, and Stephanos on the trail

Panoramic View of area around Everest Base Camp

Stephanos and Nutan on the trail

Stephanos and Meng with sign
It was a wonderful feeling having reached EBC.  RELIEF!  ELATION!  COMPLETION!  HOT SHOWER!  COMFORTABLE BED!  DECENT FOOD!  Those were the thoughts that crossed my mind.

Me, at EBC

This couple rode horses all the way from Lukla

Our guides:  Nutan (L)  Dilip (R)
A Final Group Photo with the name of the charity we are supporting
On the hike back to Gorak Shep we met many hikers in the second group (described above).  They probably started from Lobuche that morning and are now just getting on the trail to EBC.  Following a light lunch we laze around the tea house in the afternoon, catching up on email and FB posts.  Tomorrow we are going back to civilization.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

EBC Days 10 and 11 - Lobuche to Gorak Shep

Before we left Lobuche, we were told to only bring whatever we need for the last two days in Gorak Shep.  Our hardworking porters were going to take our extra stuff and start their hike back to Lukla.  By the time we arrive at our hotel in Lukla, our stuff will all be there.

It's another beautiful sunny day as we walked out of the tea house at Lobuche at about 8am.  In front of the tea house is the helicopter pad where the sick woman was evacuated yesterday.  We could see the top of the glacier lake ahead of us in a distance.  It was a beautiful open area, again with mountains all around.  The trail is relatively flat and dotted with rocks here and there; nothing it seems that will slow us down.  Lobuche is at about 4,910m or about 16,108ft.  Some trekkers are already getting altitude sickness.  The hike to Gorak Shep is supposed to be 3 hours, as we were told by our guide.  Gorak Shep, our last stop, is at 5,140m or about 16,863ft.

Distance-wise, Gorak Shep is not very far from Lobuche.  Perhaps about 3km.  However, the terrain is anything but easy.  After the initial flat part, we started to encounter rocky terrain and lots of up and down.  Many hikers slowed down.

The terrain started flat and easy

Many hikers on the trail

Rocky and uphill 

Beautiful mountains surrounding us at a rest stop

Stopping to rest and admire the scenery

A lot of climbing

More rocks and climbing

The pace is slow because of the crowd and difficulty of the trail
I finally arrived at Gorak Shep at about 10:30am, two and a half hours after we started.  I passed a lot of hikers who struggled with the rocky terrain.  If you are not used to stepping from rock to rock, your pace will be very slow.  You have to maintain your balance while not losing your stride.  I practice this on the mountain behind my house.  Balance and agility is something you lose as you get older, unless you keep practicing it.

I had a lot of time to rest after I arrived at the Himalayan Lodge.  I thought I was at the wrong tea house, but the rest of my group arrived at about noon.  They looked very tired.  We had lunch, then a couple of hours of rest.  Our plan that afternoon is to climb Kala Pathar.

Approaching Gorak Shep

A sign welcoming us to Gorak Shep

That was the longest 3km from Lobuche

Buildings around Gorak Shep
Although Gorak Shep is the last stop, it is not the end of the trek.  Two more challenges lie ahead:  hike to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and climbing up Kala Pathar (KP), an intimidating mountain that offers an unobstructed view of the peak of Mt. Everest.  By this time most of the hikers are very, very tired.  Hiking to EBC is the primary goal of most but if you still have some energy left and a few loose screws in your head, you can try to climb to the top of KP.  So that afternoon, four of us tried to climb as high as possible up KP.

View of the Mt. Everest Peak from Kala Pathar

Starting the slow climb up KP with view of Gorak Shep

Mt. Everest starting to come into view

Gorak Shep start to look smaller

The trail up KP

A panoramic view of the peaks

The views get more beautiful as you go higher

Almost there!

At the top of KP, with Mt. Everest just next to my right shoulder

A transmitter and prayer flags up at the top
Many try to climb KP but few make it all the way to the top.  It peaks at 5,550m or 18,208ft.  This would be the highest point that we would climb on this trek.  Even at the half-way point you have an excellent view of Mt. Everest and the mountains next to it.  In the panoramic picture above, I captured this image.  A few days later in Kathmandu I found this view immortalized in many posters and postcards.  I bought one of the posters.  I plan to frame it and hang it on my wall one day.  That evening I was dead tired.  I had dinner and went to bed at 8pm.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

EBC Days 8 and 9 - Dingboche to Lobuche

After a restful 3 nights in Dingboche we were ready to move on to Lobuche, our next stop.  I slept well the night before.  We had breakfast at 7.  I had the Trekkers Breakfast - French Toast, eggs and a bowl of muesli.    It was a hearty breakfast that I need for the long hike ahead.

Whenever we move to a new location or village, we pack two bags:  One day-pack and an overnight bag.  The day-pack is what we carry with us during the hike.  It should contain only the things you need during the hike and for the day.  I try to limit mine to less than 5 lbs.  I have water, snacks, electronic accessories, emergency over-the-counter medicine like pepto-bismol, Tylenol, band-aid, chapstick, sunblock, etc, a small hand towel, roll of tissue paper, DSLR camera and perhaps a few more items.  Others may have different items in their day packs depending on their preference.  The most important item is water.  You must always have water in your day-pack, not just to quench your thirst, but as a way to counter altitude sickness.  Drinking a lot of water is the best way to acclimatize.

Our overnight bags hold things that we need at the tea-houses.  Everyone in our group, except me, has a large 90-liter duffel bag weighing about 12kg or about 25lbs.  I have a large backpack which I find adequate for my needs.  In the overnight bags are our sleeping bags, extra clothes and equipment, toiletries, medication, etc.  Three porters support our group and carry these overnight bags to our next destination.  They also carry our guides' overnight bags so they each average about 25kg or a little over 50lbs.  They pick up these bags in the morning while we are having breakfast and have a head start on us.  By the time we arrive at our next village, our overnight bags are usually there.

This is one of the most beautiful part of the hike.  We were surrounded by towering Himalayan peaks.  Below us is the valley floor where Periche is located.  The terrain ahead was relatively flat.  We were at about 15,000 feet elevation.  Our spirits were high.  After 2 nights in Lobuche, we have 2 more nights in Gorak Shep; our terminus.

Looking down at the valley where Periche is located

Another view of the valley

Another view

More peaks

We were surrounded by tall Himalayan peaks

Hiking through a broad plain

More Himalayan peaks

Terrain starts to change to rocks.
As we get further along on the hike the terrain changed.  We are starting to see huge rocks.  Our pace slowed.  We need to get down to the bottom of the valley and start another ascent.

Sign showing we are in Thukla

Mountains in the background

Never get tired of this view

Sight of Amadablan as we approach Thukla
We took our lunch break at Thukla.  I shared a bowl of Sherpa stew with Bert.  Sherpa stew is a bowl of soup with various types of vegetables and some meat.  The closest I can think of an American soup is Minnestrone soup.  Just above Thukla is a memorial park of sort that commemorates those who died trying to summit Mount Everest.  It goes to show that climbing Mount Everest is a risky venture.  Many never came back.  Stephanos hung a couple of prayer flags in memory of a couple of love ones.

Lunch in Thukla

A Memorial Stupa commemorating one of the greatest climbers

Many memorial stupas commemorating those who died climbing Mt. Everest

Dedication to Babu Chili Sherpa, who holds many climbing records

Prayer flags and beautiful mountain views at the memorial
The pace starts to slow after lunch.  It's been about 5 to 6 hours since we started.  We were getting tired. Step-by-step we are slowly climbing to Lobuche.  At about 3 pm we started seeing buildings.  Lobuche is in sight.  We found our tea house.  Finally, a well-deserved rest.  I have my honey-lemon-ginger team.  Stephanos had his hot chocolate.  Others have their favorite beverages.  The dining hall is crowded with other trekkers from all over the world.

A group picture, including our guides Nutan and Dilip

Lobuche Welcomed Us

Lobuche at 5030m or about 16,502 ft.

We were rewarded with a beautiful sunset
We spent the next day resting and acclimatizing in Lobuche.  We took a short hike up to a dry glacier lake.  We also saw a woman incapacitated by altitude sickness being evacuated by helicopter.  It's a scene that we'd see a few more times in Gorak Shep.

Dry glacier lake above Lobuche

Looking down at Lobuche from nearby lake