the only way is up…

November 2012

I’ve been waiting…hoping….that the phone would ring and one of those nice young techie types who are currently in possession of my 8GB card (with the majority of shots from our recent Nepal ‘Everest Trek’), would be on the other end of the line to cheerfully reassure me ‘not to worry Mrs Gale – we’ve recovered all the visual evidence of your outstanding accomplishment in reaching an altitude of 18,200 ft, and looking upon what has to be the most magnificent mountain range on this little planet of ours….!”

In pondering this I’ve also come to the realization that (a) it’s highly unlikely this is going to happen and (b) does is really matter anyway?  After all, even my very best work (a very small proportion of those files), while visually pleasing, could not depict:-

  • the sense of satisfaction I felt when we spied our first glorious glimpse of Mount Everest at the look-out point in ‘Namche Bazaar’, and I sought out a cool angle compositionally to capture it…that apparently no-one else had noticed at the time.
    or;
  • the fact that whilst all the other trekkers were mulling around on benches inside ‘Tangboche Monastery’ waiting to witness daily prayers, I was outside engaging with a shy elderly monk, coaxing him to show me his “real” smile….and he did.
    or even;
  • the feeling I had after spending a half hour or so clicking around to get the best Himalayan mountain, sun-flare, prayer flag shot ever – and I did.

I was, however, able to pull together a number of images for this post salvaged from our Olympus point and shoot, and from the new card I fed my D90 right before we made the dawn hike up Kala Pattar to the ultimate destination viewpoint.  I’m thankful for that.  It’s the details along the way I’m missing and will have to keep those images in my head and my heart (because there is absolutely no way I’m doing this one over again!).

I realize now, that although I can’t visually document and share the whole adventure with family, friends and fellow bloggers, it doesn’t take away the fact that we lived it, and so I’ve resigned myself to simply use it as one of life’s annoying little lessons.  It would be remiss however, not to qualify the previous statement with the fact that it’s taken me 3 weeks to reach this philosophical conclusion!

This said, here’s how it all unfolded:-

  • darling husband had a ‘bucket list’ item to see Mount Everest…”with his own eyes”, and to visit the ‘base camp’ area
  • a trusty colleague of mine had recently done a similar trip (although instead of embarking on a 12-day gruelling trek, he simply drove  (or was driven to be more precise) through Tibet to the back door of Everest and hopped out of a car for a few hours to see the sights and get ‘the shot’!  This was our ‘plan A’ too, but turned out not to be an option due to recent changes in the Chinese government’s regulations for entry into Tibet.  It wasn’t meant to be.
  • trusty colleague highly recommend the Nepalese tour operator he used and we swiftly picked up the details and ran with it…
  • enter dear Rajan (Earthbound Expeditions)…..

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Rajan Simkhada
President
Earthbound Expeditions Pvt. Ltd.
Himalayan Adventure Travel & Trekking

http://enepaltrekking.com/

It’s hard to convey what a wonderful experience we had working Rajan and his team, but a few things that really stood out for us in terms of exceptional customer service were the personal greetings and feeling that you are Rajan’s most important customer…., when you know the reality is there are numerous large trekking parties he’s orienting and attending to at any given time during the peak season.  We also appreciated the total flexibility around our changing itinerary, like finishing the trek faster than anticipated,  hopping on a bus to ‘Chitwan National Park’ and Earthbound made all the last minute arrangements this entailed on our behalf, without question or complaint.

Our journey to the Everest region started with a hair-raising flight to Lukla (said to be one of the world’s most dangerous airports).  With the short (460 metre) uphill runway at an elevation of 2800 metres, there is no such thing as an “attempted landing”, you either land or you don’t – first time around.   I read somewhere that…”When you take off, you go downhill and then the runway just disappears into the valley down below. If you don’t get enough speed, you drop until you get lift and then hopefully get back up again”.

Thankfully, on our return journey out of Lukla, we got “lift”!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having arrived at Lukla in one piece, we set off with our guide ‘Hari’ and porter ‘Ram’ (both of whose portraits were on the 8GB card!), for what could be described as a really, really, really long hike!  The route was Lukla; to Phakding; to Namche Bazaar; to Tengboche; to Dingboche; to Lobuche; to Gorak Shep (to Everest Base Camp & Kala Pattar); to Pheriche; to Namche Bazaar; to Phakding; to Lukla.

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Days in the Khumbu (Everest) region in October/November are typically dry, sunny and relatively warm (5-10 degrees c), with mostly clear blue skies, as you’ll notice from many of the shots on this post.  While this is great news for “fair-weather” hikers like us, the flip-side is when the sun disappears for the day, around 5:00 pm, the temperature promptly drops, and depending on the elevation you’re at, you can find yourself living at -10 to -15 degrees for the next 12 hours or so. This is the hardest part.

I was tempted to flower up this little adventure with all the typical clichés of ‘breathtaking vistas’ and ‘rapidly rolling rivers’ etc etc.  But the reality is, if  it hadn’t been for the need to stop and take a snapshot at regular intervals, we would have blown by most of this inspiring landscape and missed a chance to see the locals smiling eyes – because as we climbed higher, for us, it turned into an extreme challenge against the elements.  Think about it…having to leave the almost warmth of your (-10) sleeping bag, in (-15) temperatures during the dead of night to take a whizz…, skating around on the freshly zambonied floor of the squat toilet, while doing your best ‘stars on ice’ impression, and then quickly darting back to your own personal ‘meat-locker’ to warm up a couple of degrees before repeating the entire performance all over again an hour later.  I kid you not – this is one of the many ‘non-hiking’ challenges of a high altitude mountain trek.  Night after night after night – it wore us down, and we are well practised at feeding off each others’ whining when the going gets tough. Oh…and did I mention that we both came down with a stinking cold virus on around day # 10!   So by the time we had reached the end of the trail, hauled our sorry butts to the look-outs points (while gasping for every oxygen depleted breath), to appreciate the awesome spectacle of Everest and Co., all we wanted to do was get the hell off the mountain.  So we did – two days faster than planned.

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All wrapped up and ready for bed; but alas, this cosy situation won’t last long!

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Our kind and most patient guide ‘Hari’ on the right in blue, with a buddy that he just happened to run into at the top of Kala Pattar – go figure!

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Mount Everest in the background (the tallest black pointy one on the right)

Notwithstanding all the moaning and complaining; we felt incredibly privileged to experience this and I’m pleased to report it hasn’t put us off trekking altogether, we just will head somewhere next time that you don’t need to strap on a pair of crampons to go to the bathroom!

WE LOVE NEPAL!

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3 thoughts on “the only way is up…

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