Sunday, November 30, 2014

Everest base camp, day 8, 9: The retreat

October 2014

If everything went well, we should have started towards Lobuche. But things were not rosy. Subbu’s condition had become bad. Climbing up was out of question. It would be foolish if we had tried in such conditions. If two days of acclimatization could not solve the issue, climbing up would never. There is no point in risking HACE or HAPE; both of which are fatal.

Sunrises over Ama Dablam as we set to depart
One thing was clear. Having prior experience in High Altitude trekking does not make one immune to AMS. It can strike any one at any time at High Mountains.

The sad part about returning back is that we will never know whether we took the right decision or not.

If it had taken five days to climb it, it took us just two days to return back to Lukla with a night halt at Namche Bazaar. It was painful to climb back the steep path towards Namche but the last climb to Lukla was the toughest!!

When we reached Lukla, it was around 2PM. The weather had turned bit cloudy. We wanted to avoid stay at Lukla and return to Kathmandu as soon as possible. We had not ‘heard’ any flights for quite some time. And we had to prepone our tickets also.

Tough life of locals
As we entered into the empty Lukla airport, we were whisked to the tarmac without much delay. There was a flight about to land at Lukla!! It did not matter when the return date was. As long as there were seats, we could just jump in.

Everest seem from Tengboche
The security at Lukla airport was strange. They did not have scanning machines and hence security consisted of few questions like whether we were carrying banned items!! An answer “no” is enough to pass.

Shortly three flights landed at the airport and within 5 minutes we were flying on air!! The journey was more turbulent due to cloud cover. The pilot was driving the flight like an auto rickshaw.

This would be the first view of Everest. Before Namche Bazaar

At 2PM we were trekking in the Everest region. Within an hour, we were in the streets of Kathmandu. It was too much of a contrast for our confused minds and body!!

Final words: 
Will I try again? I am not sure. But one thing is certain. I will not be trying the same itinerary again. It will be too much of repetition.  Combining with Gokyo or three pass trek can be thought off. But for now, I will be giving a break to Everest Base Camp for some time. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Everest base camp, day 7: Acclimatization day at Dengboche

October 2014

Dengboche was a beautiful place. But the cold weather kept us indoors for most of the day. Thanks to Kindle loaded with books, I never had a boring time. Wi-Fi came at NPR 600 per hour, was only available after 6PM. I made a deal on per minute basis to call my Home via Skype. Mobile signals had not yet reached Dengboche.

View from front of the hotel

My appetite had gone from bad to worse as I started hating the food. I was fully convinced that it was not altitude but type/quality of food that made me to lose appetite.

Lhotse seen from Dengboche village

On acclimatization day, most people headed to Nagkartshang Gompa, a name which I could never pronounce properly. I also followed the majority people to climb 1,000 feet to reach the Gompa. Subbu was tired and hence he decided to rest at the hotel.

'Our' hotel
As I climbed, I noticed that most people in front of me were headed towards Lobuche. They were one day ahead of us. I had a long look at the route towards Lobuche and then continued towards my destination, the Gompa with a difficult name.

People walking towards Lobuche
It took me 45 minutes to climb up. It was easy but too windy to stay long at the top. The bonus of this walk was the view of Makalu, fifth highest mountain in the world. With Makalu, I now have seen 8 of the 14 eight thousanders from land. They are Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, Manaslu, Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri and Shisha Pangma. Cho Oyu is one peak I am yet to see (I can include it as I have seen it from Mountain flight but that is a boring way to see a mountain!!).  The remaining five (K2, Nanga Parvat, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Broad peak) are in the part of Kashmir not controlled by Indians and hence out of bounds.

There is Makalu in this picture!!

When I come back, Subbu was surprised that I returned so quickly.

From Gompa
Later that day, a big Spanish group checked-in to our hotel. By evening the restaurant was bustling with people creating a party like atmosphere. 

Lhotse looking very near

In the meantime, Subbu’s condition had not improved. Even a walk to restroom made him breathe heavily. If that was the condition, how can we climb up remaining 4,000 feet? The end of our trip seemed nearer.

Going down?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Everest base camp, day 6: Debuche to Dengboche

October 2014

We had NCell signal on mobile till Namche Bazaar. But at Debuche it was only Nepal telecom that worked though the call quality was very bad.

Debuche to Dengboche elevation map
Subbu felt that he was unnecessarily carrying extra weight. He decided to keep additional stuff at hotel and take back during return journey. That was a nice plan.

A tree near Debuche
Debuche was a nice place surrounded by trees with backdrop of Ama Dablam. The tree cover would be gone within few minutes of walk from Debuche giving way to barren landscape. The route from Debuche goes down to the level of the stream and then rises to the village of Pangboche. Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Everest were the prominent mountains seen on the route.

The walk was not difficult due to slow gain in altitude. Also, the “ups and downs” were less leading to a pleasant walk. After Pangboche was another small village of Shomare. By then the landscape had turned barren providing some nice views.

Ama Dablam
The last village of the day was Orsho where the only lodge was closed. Here the trail split into two; one leading to Pheriche and other to Dengboche. Pheriche is 400 feet lower then Dengboche. We had decided to stay at Dengboche for two reasons. The first was that Dengboche was less windy than Pheriche. The second was that we liked the name “Dengboche”!! We had planned to stay at Pheriche while returning but that never happened.

The trail again went down to the base of the valley to cross the river. That resulted in another steep climb after crossing the river. It was here I was in my strongest form. I felt that I was having unlimited energy and climbed up without a break even challenging Samir. I was in “form”. But here I started getting worried about Subbu. He again was slow and struggling to climb. I had never seen him in such form during treks.

After the climbed, I stopped and had a look on the other side. Dengboche was inviting us!!

Since we were staying two nights at Dengboche for acclimatization, we were looking for a good accommodation. Samir showed us a place which we did not like. After searching for some time for a “good hotel”, we zeroed in on a lodge that had Wi-Fi!!


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Everest base camp, day 5: Namche Bazaar to Debuche

October 2014

It would be one more gruelling day for us. The elevation plot below shows that the net altitude gain between Namche Bazaar and Debuche was about 1,100 feet but for that we had to lose 3068 feet and climb back 4149 feet!!

After the initial climb from Namche Bazaar we reach the Army camp. It was then a plain walk with occasional ups and downs for next 90 minutes. The view of Everest was visible for most of our journey but it was Ama Dablam that stole the show on that day. It just looked spectacular and after each turn we felt that we were almost near that mountain!!

Ama Dablam
At this stretch Subbu had nose bleeding.  It subsided after sometime and he looked ok. It was the first sign that not everything was right.

Fields after Namche Bazaar
At Sanasa, a path deviates to Gokyo lakes. Our original itinerary had Gokyo Lake with crossing of mighty Cho La. But later we felt that we were not “prepared” for such a touch trek. Finally we decided to stick to the “easiest” route to EBC!!

That path then continuously went down to the base of the valley. We were now at an altitude lower than Namche Bazaar. Now it was time to climb up!!

The final climb to Tengboche involves a steep climb of about 2500 feet but it is often underestimated by climbers. It is as touch as Namche Bazaar climb and comes at the end of the days trek. The climb starts immediately after crossing the hanging bridge at Dudh Kosi River. We had to register at an army check post here. Samir told that this would be the last check post.

Hanging bridge before the climb
In spite of the altitude, I had an easy day. But I felt not everything was right for Subbu. He seemed to be slow that day. This was atypical of him. He had an infection just before starting the trip. It was very similar to my Manasa Sarovar exeperience. Few days before the start, I had an infection.  I was still on antibiotics when I landed in Kathmandu. But due to Tibet permit issues, I got an opportunity to rest at Kathmandu for few days. Subbu did not have that luxury. So as he started falling back, I felt that the infection was keeping him performing his best.

Snow capped mountain at Tengboche
After two hours of continuous climb, we reached Tengboche. One cannot miss the imposing monastery here.

Tengboche monastery

The stay options at Tengboche are limited. Since we were one of the first to arrive we had all hotels at our disposal. But we decided to go as per our plan and walk down to Debuche, a 20 minute journey downhill.  We choose Everest Lodge to stay which indeed was a pleasant place. They had few books in their restaurant and also had a small TV in their Kitchen with Hindi channels. Both kept us engaged for rest of the day!!

Ama Dablam soar behind Deboche

Friday, November 07, 2014

Everest base camp, day 4: Acclimatization day at Namche Bazaar

October 2014

Namche Bazaar is the main town in Everest area. It is set in a natural amphitheater over looking Kongde Ri.  Due to significant altitude gain, it is recommended that one stays for a day in Namche Bazaar for acclimatization. We promptly followed the advice.

Namche Bazaar
I had lost appetite and started hating food. Whether it was due to altitude or bad quality of food, I was not clear. The food was not impressive as hotels prepared them without salt and spice. Dal baat the only food nearest to ‘our food’ was completely bland and so was the chapatti. I started trying exotic (?) foods like Pasta, momos. It was a way to ensure that I ate something. Why can’t people prepare idlis and dosas? I and Subbu agreed that food at Annapurna circuit was better (and cheaper).

View from our hotel
Contrary to popular belief acclimatization is not a rest day. A good way to acclimatize is to climb higher in the day and sleep at the lower altitude.  Like majority of trekkers, we headed to Army camp 450 feet above our hotel in Namche Bazaar. As we neared army camp, the view of Aba Dablam was clear.  At 22,349 feet it looked un-climbable due to its steep faces. But each year it is climbed by several people!!

View of Ama Dablam
Army camp also has a museum. In front of the museum was a large open space where we got the first view of Mount Everest. It should have been a happy moment but at that time we were not sure whether it was Mt. Everest or not!! Our porter said that the Mt. Everest was not visible which was also seconded by a guide from other group. I couldn’t believe that porter could not identify Mt. Everest. He seemed to be very innocent who only concentrated on his job!!

The mountain at the center but rising behind Nuptse. Ama Dablam on the far right
Once we know that we were looking at Mt. Everest our joy knew no bounds!! It was an amazing sight though only the tip of Everest was visible surrounded by Nuptse (25, 791 feet) and Lhotse (4th highest peak at 27,605 feet).

The leftmost peak is Everest
From the army camp we could see people climbing another hill. It promised better views so we climbed though it was a steep climb of about 1200 feet. That brought us to Everest view hotel. Clouds were already hovering around Everest when we took a quick photo.

A marathon was organized on that day. Look at the route one need to take from the banner below. It is one hell of a walk (or run!!).

When we returned to Namche we decided to have lunch at the hotel we ate on previous day.  Free Wi-Fi and charging was irresistible!! But once I started seeing mails, I became busy for next couple of hours.

Trip meter that day. Click on the photo for better view
I received a mail that a fraud was detected in my corporate credit card. It does not have upper limit and I was worried. That problem was that the credit card was in my Home and I did not remember the number!! I tried to call Customer service but the first question they ask was the card number. But no one was in Home at that time. I had to call my Home who then called up my Mother and then she went to the Home and got the credit card. As signal was weak, I asked my wife to contact customer service and close the matter. But they did not agree for that.

Valley we climbed on the previous day
I had to call them up and then patiently answer all security questions. Finally they said that I had to call from my registered phone number!! With great patience I had to tell them that I was in “climbing Everest!!” and with great difficulty I was calling them. They reluctantly accepted my version and cancelled the card. Story ended well!!

A waterfall seen from Namche Bazaar

Back to main story. I observed a phenomenon when I was in Namche Bazaar. For all 3 days (including one day while retuning) the day started with clear skies. By noon the clouds covered the entire area. By evening it was again a clear sky!!

Evening view with multiple exposure

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Everest base camp, day 3: Phakding to Namche Bazaar

October 2014

It was a difficult night at Phakding. For some reason I had headache and that prevented me from having a good sleep. At 8400 feet, there was very little chance of Altitude sickness. But still it did not give me a nice feeling.

I felt better in the morning. It was good as we had a tough day ahead.  The climb from Phakding to Namche Bazaar is considered as the most difficult part of the trek. We will be experiencing it today. At 7:30AM we were all set for the walk.

The initial part of the trek was pleasant. While crossing a stream I decided to take a photograph of myself. It would my first photo in this trip. Well, for now it was just a shadow of me!!

A small but a beautiful waterfall made its appearance on the way.

The first snow clad mountain made its appearance as we walked. It was Thamserku at the elevation of 21, 680 feet.

All along the way we crossed yaks and mules carrying loads.

Another waterfall made its appearance which was more serene and beautiful. Shortly afterwards we reached a village called Benkar. A picturesque village. Instead of Phakding one can also stay here. It is more beautiful and reduces the pain of second day’s walk by 1.5 hours!!

Still we haven’t gained any altitude. We crossed Dudh Kosi River several times over hanging bridges. After Benkar was Monjo village. Here was the check post for TIMS card. As mentioned earlier we had not taken TIMS card at Kathmandu. That was not an issue as the TIMS card was also issued here. All we needed was two photographs and a passport copy. We paid INR 375 per head for the TIMS card.

The so called climb of Namche Bazaar had not yet begun but we had entered Sagarmatha National Park. We had to pay the NPR 1500 per head for National Park Permits. This was one of the places where they accepted only Nepali currency.

Sagarmatha National Park entry
We had walked for three hours but had not gained but altitude. That did not mean that it was a plain walk. We were constantly climbing up and then down without gaining any altitude!! We did not like it. After National park entry, we were again extremely disappointed when we again had to go down to the base of Dudh Kosi River.

Somewhere we saw a board that it was the last restaurant before Namche Bazaar. But it was still 10:30AM and we were not hungry enough to have lunch.

Finally, after nearly three hours of trekking we were at the place where the steep climb to Namche Bazaar begins. It was an astonishing sight to see two hanging bridges one above the other at a great height. We had to cross using the top bridge.

The climb was very steep with series of switchbacks. We trudged silently thinking about the “rest day” (Acclimatization day) in Namche Bazaar. That gave us lot of energy. The walk was long and it drained all our energy. I was now hungry and that made me even more tired. After about ¾ of the climb was a rest point. We rested for a while and filled water bottles.

We had to show our permits at a check point. It was an indication that Namche Bazaar was nearby. On the way we found a hotel that claimed free Wi-Fi and charging. Both were premium in this trek and we barged in!! Namche Bazaar was still few minutes away but we were hungry.

Finally at 2PM we reached Namche Bazaar. We took a room at the entrance of the town. The total journey was 13 km with a gain of 2800 feet altitude.