Saturday, July 2, 2011

DNA travels in the Everest region part 2

Pics from the first 6 days of our hike.

Hiked all the way from that pass aaaaall the way in the back.
That will be carried on the backs of some porter for 6 days, the man wearing only sneakers or flip flops..makes you wonder at your fancy shmancy hiker’s boots.
Just look at that, the pack is almost bigger than the man himself.  And to make it even more exciting, the cliff on the side.

These donkeys rule tha trails.

Dinner’s on the table! (porcupine, delicious!)
Typical kitchen/restaurant/home;  Cooking for the VERY hungry hikers.


DNA travels in the Everest region

Nepal has truly been one of THE experiences in my life and cliché yes, but not one that could ever be traded.  I have kept a diary of our everyday on the hike and for the purpose of trying to help you ‘experience’ just a little of what we did, I have taken out a few snippets.  Have to say that it was incredibly difficult to try and squeeze 20 days’ experience into such a small space.

Day 1 Arriving!!!!! Kathmandu (1400 m)
NE....PAAAAA....AAALLL......LLLLLLL!! YUPP-PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!  At long long last, after a wait too long.  Lungs in desperate need of fresh mountain air after Chi-SMOKING-na.

I am ABSOLUTELY, 100% truly, CRAZY about this place!  The little piece I had left of this heart of mine, has now been stolen away completely, with next to no trouble whatsoever by Nepal and its people.  After our looooong transit at Delhi airport (20 hours), finally boarding the plane, airport admin upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by our host Mann.  Even exhaustion had to step aside when we were greeted by all the kids at the children’s home, arms filled with flowers and faces smiling to help us feel welcome in their country.

Mann is the pastor at the church/children’s home/workshop for jobless poor women that he and his wife Camilla are running.  The hospitality with which we were received by these complete strangers has been unknown up until this day.  To be received and served so selflessly, nothing held back when they have so little to give is an incredibly humbling experience. The master bedroom with en-suite bathroom was cleared and cleansed especially for us, even the grandma had to sleep on the couch in the TV room.  At meals we were treated like royalty, feasts prepared to spoil the guests.  Nepal is extremely extremely poor, the government system has been a mess for so long with nothing improving, so the Nepalese are surviving on little to nothing.

Day 2 A-D-M-I-N
Admin day today, so my hubby and I took the early bus into town with only a hand drawn map and some money in hand.  The traffic was CRA-ZEEEE!!!!  A nice crazy, and through this nice crazy we went on our first sightseeing trip through the confusing and busy streets of Kathmandu.  The Nepali women are BEAUTIFUL, wrapped in colors of all sorts and most of them, from the very young to the very old, have a stud through the nose and eyeliner to accentuate the already beautiful large eyes (even the babes have to start from the early days). Loooong thick pitch black dark hair.

Admin went well, ticked off all the “to-do’s” and as the day flew past, excitement became a mixture with more than just a wee little nervousness for the next 20+ days that lie ahead.  Not a clue what to expect (specifically in regards to the famous Chola pass), not a clue whether our gear really is all in order, not a clue how you hike for 20 days.  Then I am reminded of my Abba Father’s words “Oh you of little faith...” and I find myself relaxing again back into the hand that has held me up for my 27 years (in counting).  I am looking forward with renewed anticipation to be surrounded and spoilt by the Creator’s majesty!!

Day 3 Travel day to Jiri (1905 m).
Got up at 4 am this morning to catch the bus to Jiri which would be the start of our long hike.  The bus ride was such a treat, the environment breathtaking, the people super friendly and beautiful and the music irreplaceably perfect.  Interesting this culture thing – read in our guidebook “Trekking in the Everest region” (Jamie McGuinness you legend you!) that this exact PT short I am wearing (flashback to that adjuma tickling my butt with her finger-through-the-hole) is almost not acceptable for the male species, so how much more TABOE for the ladies. So the people stared as they love to stare, but nothing that Korea hasn’t gotten me used to.  Still the ride was exciting, packed as I have never experienced a packed bus before with people sitting on each other’s laps, hanging out the door, hanging onto the roof rack...hanging onto you, 2 goats somehow also made their way into the already compacted space - we heard them bleating all the way to Jiri. 

The road was somewhat messy and the sides of the bus the proof - no kid had the stomach to keep in what they had eaten before (entertainment for the foreigners :D)  The culture is something to experience and my vocabulary shamefully limited to even try and explain how crazy excited my heart was galloping in my chest.  Arriving at Jiri, after booking ourselves into our $1 per night room, we went exploring through the dusty streets of the teeny town Jiri, taking in the amazing environment and the locals busying themselves with their everyday life.  Tomorrow is day one of hiking and I CAN’T WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Think it will be interesting to see how my terribly TERRIBLY unfit lungs and body will handle the steep hills.

The bus.
In the cricket spirit

The next 6 days we hiked from Jiri to Namche (3440 m), 6 days more than the average hiker doing the EBC (or any other) trek as most, due to time-, money- or physical constraints, rather take the plane into Lukla (2860 m).  And what a stretch that was!!! I would forever recommend rather hiking in than flying in as you have the mountains, the spectacular surroundings, the locals, unspoilt for yourself.  At most we were 6 hikers on the same stretch per day just enough to help cozying up the lodges at night.  BEAUTIFUL I tell you!  We hiked through flower forests (SPRINGTIME!!!), over shiny sands (and yes, even the SAND was something to see due to the fine broken off quarts), up massive hills, over passes and then straight down on the other side. 

Arriving at the lodges exhausted after long days’ hike we relished every moment of sweet sweet milk teas down our throats and hungrily devoured big plates of whatever looked the most appealing on the menus that day.  Why?  Because it was so so cheap! We paid $3 a night for a room between the 2 of us and the food-in-access anything up to $10 average a day for each.  The weather was incredible and I loved every moment of walking around with my shorts in place and the sun on my face.  Tuff I must mention, the hours of hiking were long and grueling by times, but the feeling of conquering the world with every step (our backpacks on our very own backs, guidebook in hand) made the sweating all the more worthwhile.  The paths take you through potato- and grain fields, quaint and characteristic villages and lead right past the doorstep of local houses.  And never will you reach that moment when you are tired of looking.
Then you reach Lukla and the masses join to trample the Himalayan grounds all around you.  It was quite the shock to all of a sudden be surrounded by all the straightened hair and nose lingering perfumes, not a sweat drop in sight.  Such an unfortunate event.  BUT, we pressed on none the less (bottom lip hanging just a little) and finally reached Namche after 6 hard days. 

Our first rest (acclimatization) day!!  To adjust to the height and decline in oxygen it’s very important to make sure you help your body with time to catch up.  On these days you REST.  Or how we would do it, climb a peak for fun and beauty and then fall exhausted in your bed straight under the sleeping bag – it was FREEZING.  From Namche onwards you are surrounded by these massive and majestic snow peaks, so indescribable, so jaw droppingly beautiful, your eyes start hurting from staring.

Namche.  The view you wake up with – AMAZING!!!
 Porters heading down.

Heading out; Everest looming in the back.

The ever so needed water break – you drink up to 4 liters a day to help acclimatize.
On the way to Lobuche (4940 m)

Loads of memorials for all who died attempting Everest.

Chopper taking people sightseeing all the way to EBC.
Lobuche peak and –basecamp to the left.



Day 12 (skipping a few days) Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5164 m), Kala Patar (5644.5 m)
AND I SURVIVED ANOTHER PIEPIE BREAK!!!!!!!!!!! (Because of the cold I invented my own pee bottle which worked like a genius invention.  Hey, don’t judge, you weren’t there to experience the freeze at your butt!)

Today will officially be the day that I almost lost all ten of my precious fingers and a toe or two (and Douwe is sitting here, nodding along while he is gently, almost fatherly, caressing his fingers).  With “early bird catches the worm” fresh in our minds we left the lodge at 6 am today to make the most of the gorgeous blue sky day we were given.  And I almost died.  Shortly after leaving the warm and friendly safety of the lodge, Bravery went running, coward as he is with the tail between the legs and left us in the mercy of Suffering.  Never in my 27 years of life on this planet have I EVER had to endure such utter suffering.  Intense, mean-monster, merciless I-will-take-whatever-toe-or-finger-I-can-and-will-find-Cold.  And all the while the sun was lazily hiding behind the snow peaks.  So I cracked just a wee little, almost so little you barely would’ve noticed it.  After the sun finally showed up (to which I almost declared my undying love for), we really had such an incredible day – the scenery is so much more than I will ever be able to describe, the sky was as blue as one could only hope for, the mountains... man, I hope photos might be able to convey a clearer message as I have long since realized I do not have the capability to describe the might and glory of God. 

Kala Patar was a JOKE.  Never in all my life have I ever experienced such a thing as this – you have no idea how the tiniest of hills (in the shadows of the ones that really matter) have the ability to kill you.  You frantically, like an idiot, gasp around for what little oxygen you might find to help your lead heavy legs up that hill.  Such a sissy hill I dare only say now in the safety of my South African home.  Still, we survived and have the photo to show.  Running down was fun, when we had feeling again in our legs and air to breathe.  Back at the lodge you vary your activities between sleeping, reading, playing cards (Heidi and Matt, yours was officially the only game we knew and we played it until we hated it), meeting new peeps and swapping survival stories (and then blushing when you realize that the mister is in fact a hardcore mountaineer and on his way to solo Lotse, the 3rd highest peak in THE WORLD.  Did I mention WITHOUT oxygen?!), eating, sipping sweet milk tea...aaaah bliss!

That wee little tiny hill, in front of the massive icy peak, that’s the killer Kala Patar.
One of many much needed breaks on our way up Kala Patar. 
MADE IT!!! Take THAT you monster you!
View from the top – that is the famous Kumbu icefall to the right, EBC is just to it’s left.  Maybe you can make out the yellow tents.

And there it is, the Mountain of all mountains – Everest (the black peak with a bid of cloud behind it).
Heading down; Nuptse in the background.
On top of Kala Patar we met a fellow Saffa.  With the flag, brilliant!
Day 13 Gorak Shep to EBC (5360 m)!! (yeah!)Day 14 Gorak Shep to Dzongla.
Piece of cake!! A breeze every step of the way.  Was surprised as all we heard was how difficult it was, but we walked with a skip in the step, smiles in place and enjoyed a wonderfully warm (as warm as it could be 5000 meters up), sunny day.  Base camp is something to see.  Yellow tents everywhere and right next to it the legendary Kumbu icefall. 
All around you see toughies getting ready for the Big One (it costs around $65 000 by the way for a trip up Everest, a 2 to 3 month expedition) and you gaze at them in wonderment (and a sense of gratefulness that that isn’t you).  Maybe it is a cliché, but to stand in the shadow of the highest mountain in the world really does make your heart thump a little louder.  Being the lesser impressive mountain compared to its sisters surrounding it, it still claims 1 out of every 7 climbers today.  A mountain to be taken very seriously. 

Left Gorak Shep ready for our next adventure.  As the distance again wasn’t very far, we took all our time hiking to our next stop – Dzongla (a day closer to Chola pass...eeeek!).  SUCH a great hike today, the trail traversed along a valley, to our side the view from where we came and in front of us these magnificent peaks – Cholatse.  The trail led right up to it, close enough to make us a little nervous and then made a sharp turn so that these beauties were on our side all the way to Dzongla.  Jesus said that the rocks will shout of the glory of God and THIS noise was deafening!!  What an incredible day!  Irreplaceably special also as us 2 lovebirds were celebrating our 2years together...
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!  How can you effectively say thank you for the perfect hubby in every single aspect - a blessing more intense and massive than one could ever deserve!?
Reached the halfway mark, heading back via Chola Pass and Gokyo.
BEAUTIFUL traverse almost all the way to Dzongla.
The valley we came up.

This has to be one of my favorite days, those peaks right next to you, breathtaking!

Chola Pass in the distance.

Day 15 Dzongla, Chola Pass (5420 m) to Gokyo.
Now THIS is how you should end a day, a hard day of hiking up dangerous cliffs, over gaping crevasses and down more nerve wrecking cliffs.  The hike up hill (I mean dangerous cliffs) was hard but oh so worth the sweat as we had our magnificent backdrop in place, some slippery excitement under foot and snowy dark navy cliffs all around.  What a feeling to conquer the scary much spoken of Chola pass..ssss.sssssssss!  AMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZZZIIINNNGGG!!! SO so incredibly beautiful, breathtaking!! 

At the top we slippery slid past too many people coming up from the other side with an eye carefully glued to the crevasse not too far off on our right.  Relished every short moment of the Nature Valley cracker munched down, took a few pics, gaped at the many people truly struggling up the wrong way up the Chola and then we were off.  Just in time too as the clouds came in way too sudden and before we could properly get ourselves booked into a Gokyo lodge, we were covered in snow.  Nothing to up that excitement all of us travelers love to seek.  The lodge we will stay at for the next 2 nights is well placed right on the lake surrounded by yet more amazing snow peaks, with Gokyo Ri to the side which we plan to hike as well, just for the heck of it.

One thing to absolutely always L*O*V*E about the lodges are those small yet conveniently warm and cozy ovens in the middle of the dining room. 

And I STINK.  I will say this only in a whisper, my head hanging shamefully, but my body has not seen soap since day 3, hair hasn’t been scrubbed since day 2...I am starting to worry about lice and what else may be making a nest up there.  We have been freezing for way too long so I have found it easier to just always stay in my same clothes, hiking, sleeping, same same. 

Heading up the Chola.
Chola Pass

Almost there!
Made it!
The way down.  These porters are AMAZING.  Look at that load, coming up from the very slippery difficult side of Chola.  We’re heading for that saddle in the back.

Taking one last look at Chola Pass.

Just as weather should be, unpredictable.  We just just made it to Gokyo.
After the snow the clouds lifted and left us with incredible views of the surrounding peaks and lake.
Gokyo lake 3 – view from the best lodge in town.
Gokyo Ri on the left.
MASSIVE glacier!! Biggest in the Himalayan region.

Day 16 Gokyo Ri (5480 m) and lakes.
The day we spent either hiking up Gokyo Ri (and gaping at yet more breathtaking views – Everest in the further distance just from another angle) or chasing after snow covered lakes.  Incredible but oh so hard hard as my head was busying itself going on the craziest tantrum runs - something to do with wanting to go home. 

Day 16 will also be the day that I was totally fed up.  Over gross squat toilets, stinking body odors (mine), freezing body parts, overpriced food (it rocketed after Namche, though it really is understandable as every single thing has to be carried up on someone’s back), sleeping in a bed shared by millions and most of all over missing family, friends, Afrikaans, luxuries (the hot showers any day any time, toilets built to flush, toilet paper), real chocolates, cheese and milk, South Africa, King pies, Mrs. Ball’s chutney, SIIIIIIMBAAAA CHHHIIIPPPSSS, pumpkin, toast with jam and cheese..and the list goes on.  Fortunately I had my trusty diary at hand and spent some well needed venting time on a few pages which feelings couldn’t be hurt.  It lasted a day and on day 17 I was as good as brand new, even smiling.

Heading up Gokyo Ri

Top of Gokyo Ri.  One last look at Everest (highest peak; the black one with the clouds behind it)
Gokyo lake 3

Day 17 onwards we basically hiked out, stopping at Mongla, Namche and finally at Lukla for our flight back.  Brilliant hiking as it was down down down (hence the pain in the knee), with the ridiculous range of emotions driving me insane – sad to leave all of that beauty and culture behind; confused – not sure if I am ready to actually go, if we have done and seen it all; happy <sigh> thinking of the many travel mates along the way that added to the unforgettable trip we had, sharing the aches and pains and absolute awe and HAPPYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!! To finally be going home.   
Wildlife on our way down.

Our route out.

Lift back to Kathmandu