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.  


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