Sunday, October 31, 2010

Return to Kathmandu

We've made it back to Kathmandu after what has been a very full on trip (possibly a little too full on). Reflecting on the last 4 weeks they have been very busy:
While still jet lagged in Kathmandu we toured the main temples, taking in the monkeys, butter candles, incense, gongs, chants, prayer wheels, Hindu gods and cremation ghats. In our hotel district of Thamel everyone got used to noisy, crowded streets, no footpaths and and dodging cars, motorbikes and rickshaws.

The next day we headed to Jiri and Shivralia by bus with a driver who thought he was in a stock car. Overheated brakes, brinkmanship passing and roads that would test most 4wds made for an exhausting day.

The eight days treking to Namche was a delight although it did involve a lot of up and down – as much as 1600m a day. In the valleys we discovered snakes and leaches, on the passes and peaks, magnificent views of the mountains. For me the highlights were: watching naks (Yaks are bulls the cows are naks)being milked and drinking tea made with the milk and salt,, seeing our shadows cast in the ridge top mist in a rare occurrence called brocken-spectres and staying in very small tea houses where we interacted with the family, especially the kids as dinner was cooked in the wood stoves.
From Namche we quickly climbed through the alpine scrub layer to spend the next two weeks in rock, snow and over-grazed, brown yak pasture. While we were heading off as up to three separate groups, everyone was pushed hard by the altitude, effort required, and new cultures. For the scenic group, climbing to Gokyo Ri and and then to Everest Base Camp was a significant achievement. Kalla Patthar (the small hill above Everest Base Camp) provided truly stunning views and despite the crowds we were all able to find a quiet place to appreciate the history and drama of the region.

Quite a few of the group completed the three passes and everyone found aspects of these a stretch. The 1200m climb to Renjo La in a moderate snow storm saw everyone gasping for breath in air that was half as dense as sea level (Although when I caught up with them 20 minutes after the pass they were all looking very good). The Cho La pass on a sunny morning with fresh snow underfoot was spectacular and everyone who did iot had a fantastic day. Kongma La was also crossed on a fine day and I heard nothing but how fantastic and how exhausting it was.

Our attempt on Lobuche East was made on a poor weather day and proved frustrating for some. The initial part of the climb should have been a 1 hour scramble over easy rocks, instead it became an uncomfortable shuffle up slippery snow covered rocks that took 3.5 hours. Colin and our guide Tshering made the false summit in alpine style and poor visibility. The rest of us retreated having had some magnificent, but brief glimpses of the surrounding mountains through gaps in the mist.
For me the evening in Base Camp was worth while. The near full moon illuminating the surrounding peaks at dusk was magic.

The trip culmination was an alpine run in a similar style to the Everest Marathon. It was very much a personal effort and all the group found a way to claim their own first prize. These varied from first finished to first woman's team over two days. Whatever the pace the prize was some stunning scenery and a sense of having giving it our all to descent 2,800m, climb 700m and cover about 40kms of rough, steep trails.

Now back in Kathmandu we are enjoying 3 days to recover. It is remarkable just how much we all need a few days off. Well most of us, Colin chose to run from Lukla to Jiri over two days and arrived last night on the bus.

We are departing for Singapore in a few moments.  


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kongma La Pass

Kongma La 23 October

Today we were up at the usual time full of expectation (albeit nervous
expectation!!) for a big day over the third pass – 'The Kongma La'.
The team was down to 4, Luke, Colin, Hazel and myself plus our two
lovely Sherpa's Tshering and Nim.

Off we went up over the first hill, with all of us but Luke going up
the steepest part of the hill. Luke went over a ridge which was
kinder and got some lovely photos, overlooking Chhukhung, Island Peak
and numerous glaciers.

A "very big" climb, never seemed to end. Up we went and just as you
thought you were at the top, another higher false summit would appear
in the distance. I thought at one stage that I wasn't going to make it
but then Luke tucked in behind me and with a bit of encouragement I
finally saw the 'true' summit.

Apart from the encouragement from others the other things which
inspired me to continue were the fantastic views on a crystal clear
day, huge glaciers which seemed to meander into eternity, breathtaking
views of clear alpine lakes and water falls which had turned into
icebergs on the way down – amazing.

One of the most special moments of the trip was coming around the
corner of some huge boulders on top of the summit (almost 5 hours
after we left Dingoche) and being cheered on by a large group of
people who were already at the top – awesome!! So obviously the thing
to do was to find a suitable rock (5535 metres up) and do the same to
the others as they made the top.

We stayed at the summit for 3/4's of an hour and just soaked up the
sights – amazying. Took some great photos, ate chapati bread and
peanut butter and just basked in the glory!

Now for the climb down – must be easier I (stupidly) thought!! The
first difference from the climb up was the snow on the Lobuche side so
for about the first 100 metres down we put on our crampons. In the
distance you could see an enormous moraine wall from the "Khumbu
Glacier" which ran between the pass and Labouche – this seemed to grow
in height as we got closer!!

So down we went; once the snow melted we started climbing over huge
boulders, slippery rocks, loose chip – ended up on my bum a couple of
times but just jumped up quickly in the hope that nobody had seen!!

Down to the bottom and the nightmare was realised – we now had to
climb the moraine wall, which by now was about 100 metres high!! Up
we went (not much left in the tank) following Tshering's professional
footsteps and once up the top the view (once again) was breathtaking!!
An enormous glacier to cross – must have been at least 1 kilometre
wide and I wouldn't want to guess how deep – WOW! One could only guess
how many years Mother Nature had spent making such an incredible

After a very tricky crossing (once again all confidence in Tshering
and Nim though) we got to the other side. Colin had gone ahead and
given his pack to one of the porters and then came back to us and
offered to take my pack for me. Normally I would have refused, but
with very little energy left I graciously accepted!!

Yeah we made it to Labouche – absolutely knackered but with big smiles.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Namche Bazaar 26 October

Yesterday's run from Kalla Patthar to here in Namche was exhilarating and exhausting. We began with a walk up from our “Hotel” to the top of Kalla Patthar (5,545m) in crisp clear conditions and probably about 10 degrees of frost. As we walked up the hill, Everest became more prominent but it was Pumo Ri (or Pomori) that dominated. There were tents glued to the near vertical snow faces as the Ecuadorians retreated, beaten by the weather, and the Canadians advanced, hopeful that in their third season of attempts they would succeed. We had visited their base camps the day before and been warmly received.

The air at 5,500m is about half the atmospheric pressure of sea level and it feels like each lungful needs to be twice as big. We had walked up the 360m from Gorak Shep in about an hour. Running uphill is just not possible. Running down we took it slowly as in a couple of practice runs we had realised how quickly we could end up panting wrecks. Part way down KP we emerged into the sun from the shadow of Nuptse. It was time to change into shorts, shedding several layers.

The Trail quickly drops 1400m and the difference is huge. The barren alpine landscape gives way to Juniper and other conifers and the air thickens. On the down-hills we look like runners as we pass hundreds of trekkers travelling in both direction. We imagine we are skipping lightly down the boulder strewn trails but in reality we probably appear to be stumbling down. On the up-hills we look more like typical trekkers, out of breath and walking steadily. Over the course of a bit under 6 hours we descend 2800m and climb back over 700m in a bit under 40kms to arrive in Namche in time for lunch. Hazel and I are completely knackered.

Colin Rolfe decided to run from New Everest Base Camp and completed somewhat more than a regulation marathon distance in in 5 hours. A very strong effort and he had considerably more energy than us last night.

Today we are sitting in a coffee shop and bakery in Namche drinking in the incredible mountain views and sipping strong coffee as I write. We seem to have packed a huge amount into the last three weeks and there is still a week to go.

A sobering note was introduced two days ago when our climbing guides cousin was killed in an avalanche. He was the lead climber and a very popular member of staff at Sherpa Shangrila. All our guides are upset and Tshering is visiting his cousins family today. It is a further reminder of the responsibilities we have as visitors to set reasonable goals and take part of the risk management responsibility.

Ross 26 October
Dhole 15 October (This blog is out of sequence - it refers to an
earlier part of the trip

As part of the easy group we are wending our way slowly up the Dudh
Koshi valley towards Gokyo. Our days are limited by the amount of
height we can safely gain each day (300-400m) so the walking times are
quite short. We share the trail with porters carrying up to 120kgs.
Today we were in a group carrying plywood and other building
materials. Four 20mm sheets or about 15 thin sheets was standard.
Others were carrying kerosine, beer and cheese. At 4000m we are now
above the height where crops can be grown and everything has to be
carried in. As well as porters there are yak trains. Lower down we
passed mule trains, then Zum (cow/yak cross) trains, but now we have
to get off the track for big shaggy yaks. A few days back on the
track a porter was found concussed down a bank after being pushed off
by a mule. With some big drops at the side of the track we stop on
the inside and let the animals pass at their own pace.

Hopefully there will be some pictures with this to show just how
magnificent it is. Even though we are at 4000m the nearby peaks tower
over us by another 3000m. Here in Dhole we are almost at the bush
line. We are still walking through Juniper and Rhododendron stands,
but other deciduous trees are common and these are in full autumn

Keith went off for a stroll yesterday afternoon and came across a deer
and a musk deer just on dusk. Choughs (crows) are common and of
course yaks abound. Its very different from the lower trails where
Colin surprised a snake and several of the group had leaches find
them. One dropped down Jean's front and she proudly displayed it to
all as a an unexpected birthday present.

In the mornings when the sun is out it's warm enough to tramp in
shorts and light top. But when the clouds arrive (currently by
midday) we end up in down jackets and hats inside the tea houses.
There is some heating in the lodges, but as fuel is scarce they
generally don't light the fire till dusk. There was a solid frost on
the roof last night but our sleeping bags are more than up to the task
at present.

Will sign off now as battery life is short. Not sure how or when this
will get sent.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Labuche Climb blog

The weather here has been unseasonably bad with lots of snow and
cloud. Despite this we had an amazing evening at Lobuche base camp
(5,300m) when the cloud cleared just on dusk to reveal an amazing
vista.  It was a view that was well worth the climb and the cold

 During the night we were woken several times with hard snow hitting
the tent.  At 4am it was misty and snowing but we prepared to climb
and ate breakfast in anticipation.  At 6:20 it cleared and we started
off, but the snow covered rocks were slippery and progress was very
slow and slightly uncomfortable.  The cloud came and went revealing
tremendous glimpses of the peaks and we made the glacier about 10am.
Steep and prone to avalanches, the snow climb required good visibility
and the weather was changing for the worse. Our collective pace was
also too slow to reach the top and return to base.  Colin was very
keen to go on and Tshering our guide was willing, so they went on and
made a very fast free ascent and descent without belays while the rest
of us descended slowly, abseiling the steepest rocky bit.

We packed up base camp very quickly in heavy snow fall and raced down
to join the main EBC track.  From there it was another few hours back
to Dingboche,

 This morning has dawned fine and clear for only the second time in
what seems like weeks.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Locals
The locals have been great and we have seen many wizened faces. Sir
Ed almost counts as a local around here and his statue in Kumjung is
in pride of place in the first school he founded in the district.

Cho La

Cho La - Tuesday Oct 19
Getting to the top of Cho La pass at 8am on a beautiful sunny morning
with amazing views has been one of the highlights of the trip. Frozen
toes and a 4am start were soon forgotten as we took in the amazing
views and sucked in some air - there is rather less at 5360m that at
sea level. We all found Cho La much easier than Renjo La 2 days
before so the extra days at altitude and slower pace were definitely
1000 photos later we scrambled down a small rock face that spooked the
porters with their huge loads and headed across the glacier. The snow
and surrounding peaks were just stunning and the experience was topped
off by seeing fresh snow leopard prints criss-crossing the snow around
100m below the top I decided it was time for a few handstands before
we headed down for lunch.
The group split after lunch with the climbers heading up to Lobuche
and the rest of us down to Dingboche where we collapsed in a heap and
had a very quiet night. The scenic group joined us the next morning
for a very chilled out day in Dingboche.