Xmas@17,598 Feet (AKA The Everest Post)

AAKA “Happy to Have Done It, Happier to Be Done with It.”

 

Now, from the comfort of a hotel room some fifteen thousand feet closer to sea level, it doesn’t feel too ridiculous for me to say it: writing about the trek to Everest Base Camp is at least as hard as actually trekking to Everest Base Camp.  On the one hand, what is there to say about the tallest mountain in the world, other than that it is indeed tall (you have to get up to something like 18,000 feet before you can even begin to appreciate how tall it is) and that there is far from a piece of cake? On the other hand, whatever there is to say about it has surely been said by one of the other 24,999ish trekkers who made it to Base Camp and back this year.  Or one of the 25,000 who did it in 2013.  Or ‘12.  Or during one of the several preceding decades.  Stories of Acute Mountain Sickness at the higher elevations; descriptions of the local Sherpa people who seem to laugh in its face as they carry 200 pounds of rice, ramen, and beer in bamboo baskets strapped to their forehead; valiant if ultimately insufficient word portraits of the surreal beauty of a land populated mostly by rocks, where the lifeforms capable of eking out a living are limited to shrubs, yaks, Tibetan snow cocks (whose cluck sounds like a laser gun being fired), and lodge owners; confirmation that, yes, it is cold.  Really cold.

I’m not sure what I have to add to all that, except a big I DID IT, TOO!  Though even that comes with two caveats: First, by “I,” I really mean “We,” as the whole thing was Chris’ idea.  If not for a little pressure from his side (“Dude, it’s EVEREST,” was more or less all it took), I probably would’ve been content to hang up my boots after the two-week Annapurna trek.  Second, by “IT” I’m referring not to actually climbing/summiting Everest, which takes roughly one to two months and twenty to one hundred thousand dollars, but rather the trek to base camp, which is where the actual climbers pitch their tents and kick back for a few weeks while their bodies try to spawn batches of supplementary red blood cells.

Base camp is at 5,364 meters.  That’s what the banner says, anyhow.  When we got to there, our GPS showed something like 5,250m.  We reasoned that the banner and clump of prayer flags around it must have shifted downwards in accordance with the slow flow of the glacier atop which it sat.  Either way, it’s a bit of a hike from the 1700 or so meters we started out at in Jiri.  How much of a hike?  30 days round trip.  Most trekkers do it in about 14 by flying from Kathmandu to Lukla (45 min, fixed price: $165 each way) but Chris and I are a) unemployed and b) cyclists, both of which mean that when it’s an option we prefer to spend time and energy rather than money.  Thus, we took a bus to Jiri for $6 and stuck an extra ten days of walking onto the front end of the trek, then stuck an extra four days onto the end-end, walked as far as Phaphlu, and ended the journey with a $20, thirteen hour jeep ride back to Kathmandu that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  All the money we saved we probably spent during those extra days trekking or while back in Kathmandu trying to  regain lost kilograms, but still, that’s more memories for me to share with the eventual grandchildren.

Which means I’d better come up with something to say about the trek.  How about this?:  It’s a wonderful break from normal life (this coming from someone whose “normal life” is already an extended break from normal life).  Trekkers are forced into a simplified nomadic lifestyle where each day consists only of picking a target, walking to it, finding sustenance along the way, and then keeping warm and killing time for about sixteen hours until it’s time to start all over again.  You bring only the most necessary possessions with you, because everything you carry weighs you down in the most literal of ways.  You have extremely little choice regarding itinerary, company, cuisine, entertainment, your outfit, your level of comfort, or just about anything else.

All this may sound a little rough, but from another point of view, the ease with which even an inexperienced trekker can reach the base of Mt. Everest is fairly remarkable.   On the less-traveled parts of the trail, locals still live an agrarian lifestyle but can make some much-needed extra cash by offering rooms, meals, and Snickers bars to tourists passing through.  On the main route, and particularly in the largest towns, many villagers seem to have shifted away entirely from lives of cultivating barley and herding yaks in favor of the less demanding tasks of housing tourists.  And, above 4000m, where the inhospitable environment once made year-round settlement impossible, they have erected guesthouses with solar power, wifi, hot showers and, soon, 3G.   As if that weren’t enough, those locals whose families lack the capital or good location to run a lodge or shop often offer themselves as porters instead; for $10-$20 dollars a day they will carry both your backpack and your friend’s.  Those who speak foreign languages well can also make a decent living as guides.

Having a support team isn’t exactly my style –  ethical questions aside,  I’d rather do things on the cheap, at my own pace, and according to my own whims – so I packed light for the trip, cramming everything I could into one medium-sized 45 liter backpack.

What you got in that bag?:

Clothes: one pair of convertible cotton trousers, one pair of shorts, one trekking shirt, one cycling jersey (went unused), one normal people shirt, one thermal top, one pair of thermal longjohns, two pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, one pair each of thin, medium, and thick gloves.

Layers: one medium spring-ish jacket, one somewhat puffy wool jacket, one water/wind-proof outer shell, one pair of water/wind-proof overpants, fleece hat;

Toiletries: toothbrush and paste, sunscreen, bar of soap, loofa, travel towel;

Accessories: phone, ebook reader, charger, spare camera battery, charger, UV water sterilizer pen;

Edibles (either from my cycling stash or procured in Kathmandu at reasonable prices): peanuts, raisins, sesame seeds, nutritional yeast, spirulina tablets (not expecting many greens up top),  cookies and snickers bars;

Misc: sandals, 1l algene bottle, spare bag for fruit and samosas, camera, “-10c” rated counterfeit $25 counterfeit North Face sleeping bag, two dayglo orange walking sticks.

Total: 8-9kg?  Got lighter with every peanut consumed.

 

 

image

The little red squares are the places we wound up sleeping, but they’re not always the highest point we reached each day.  In order to avoid sleeping in cold weather and at high altitude, we never parked ourselves at the top of a pass, even though that was often an option; rather, we generally timed it so that we could do about 2/3 of the climb on the first day, sleep somewhere below, and finish off the rest in the morning.  That means that the red line doesn’t quite convey how much ascending and descending we had to do.  That’s what those little blue arrows are for. 

As for the stars – while it’s of course true that the journey is the destination, it’s also true that we had some destination destinations.  One was Base Camp, which we hiked to in a few hours from our lodge at Gorak Shep.  The other two were Kala Pattar and Gokyo Ri, both mini-mountains that aren’t strictly necessary to climb. Unless, that is, you’re interested in actually seeing Mt. Everest.  If you’re not, what are you doing here?

Costs

While we’re on the subject of logistics, here’s a little about prices.   The most expensive package tours I saw advertised charge about $4,000 for twelve days, including flights from Kathmandu to Lukla and back and all expenses for permits, food, accomodations, porters and guides (but not tips).  I reckon an independent traveler can do the whole one-month version for about $500-$600, and significantly less  if he already has all his own cold-weather trekking gear.

My own expenses included:

Transportation $27 / Conservation Area Fees  2x $20 / Trekkers Information Management System Fee $30

Gear in Kathmandu: $65 for Shoes, $25 for sleeping bag, $30 for waterproof shell, $10 for gloves and socks, $20 for waterproof pants, $15 for minicrampons

[Money recouped after trek by selling gear:  $10 for shoes, $12.50 for sleeping bag, $15 for pants (unused), $5 for crampons (unused)]

Cheapest Day: $8 (Jhubing) / Most Expensive Day: $24 (Gorak Shep) / Most Days: $12-$17

Most Expensive Room: $2 (double) / Cheapest: Free (everywhere above 4000m, but food prices go up)

Basic rice, lentil, and curry meal that goes for $1.50 in Kathmandu: Cheapest $2 (roadheads at Jiri, Phaphlu) / Most expensive: $7 (Lobuche)

Bonus: Fresh, local “Chang” rice/millet/corn beer is only $1-2 / liter, just about everywhere.  Western beer is $3-$6/bottle.

Alright, with that out of the way…how about that Everest?  Here are some shots in chronological order, starting from the start:

2014-12-07 to Shivalaya 002 (res)

Trailhead at Jiri.

2014-12-07 to Shivalaya 008 (res)

2014-12-07 to Shivalaya 011 (res)

A lodge in the making; one (three-fingered) porter who was trying to save up for his own told me it cost about $15,000 in materials and labor to put one of these together.

2014-12-08 to Bhandar 001 (res)

2014-12-08 to Bhandar 014 (res)

 

One particularly nice grandma, owner of the above house.

 

2014-12-09 to Kinja 002 (res)

 

 

2014-12-09 to Kinja 020 (res)

 

 

2014-12-09 to Kinja 024 (res)

 

 

2014-12-09 to Kinja 031 (res)

 

2014-12-10 to Dakchu 006 (res)

 

2014-12-11 to Junbesi 005 (res)

 

Another great Auntie/Granny, “Chokkpa.”

 

2014-12-11 to Junbesi 022 (res)

 

 

2014-12-12 to Taksindu 005 (res)

A porter’s load.  This guy’s lucky to be carrying mostly Ramen (though they get paid by the kilo, so he might not have been making too much.)  I saw others carrying:

– four boxes (9 bottles each) of beer in 660ml glass bottles

– five cases (24 cans each) of canned beer

-30kg sacks of rice

– several sheets of 1mx2m corrugated tin for roofing

– a bundle (ten pieces) of 2m long 2×4 beams

A few other things seen in place, their having been ported deduced thereby:

– kitchen sinks

– porcelain toilets, both squatty and western style

–  iron (?) stoves

– 98kg cappucino machine

Just for reference, porters are said to earn 40Rs/kg (about $0.25/lb) for the walk from Lukla to Namche, which takes a normal tourist about 8-10 hours.

 

2014-12-10 to Dakchu 016 (res)

 

 

Still spry enough for some hijinks at the low altitudes.

 

 

2014-12-10 to Dakchu 030 (res)

Little “Pema,” who lives with her family in a rustic stone house within view of a 3500m pass.

 

2014-12-12 to Taksindu 006 (res)

Cabbage

Blister, day 8.  I’ll spare you day 9’s iPhone video of me popping it.

2014-12-16 to Lukla 004 (res)

 

 

2014-12-16 to Lukla 008 (res)

Tibetan

 

2014-12-17 to Toktok 004 (res)

Runway at Lukla airport, 2600m.  Look at the right side of the picture – it drops straight off into the valley below.

 

2014-12-17 to Toktok 008 (res)

 

 

2014-12-18 to Namche 002 (res)

 

 

2014-12-19 Namche 006 (res)

 

2014-12-20 to Tengboche 008 (res)

Chris goes into a little conniption at the sight of the ever-picturesque double peaks of Ama Dablam

 

2014-12-20 to Tengboche 012 (res)

 

 

2014-12-20 to Tengboche 015 (res)

 

2014-12-21 to Pheriche 017 (res)

 

 

2014-12-21 to Pheriche 022 (res)

 

 

2014-12-21 to Pheriche 024 (res)

 

 

2014-12-21 to Pheriche 036 (res)

 

 

2014-12-21 to Pheriche 041 (res)

 

 

2014-12-21 to Pheriche 042 (res)

Yak

 

 

2014-12-22 to Thokla 002 (res)

Frozen stream at Pheriche

 

 

2014-12-22 to Thokla 004 (res)

Naught left but rocks at 4500m.

 

2014-12-22 to Thokla 008 (res)

With our new friend, Lukas the Czech Anaesthesiologist.

 

 

2014-12-22 to Thokla 017 (res)

The river – frozen crust on top, still flowing beneath.

2014-12-23 to Lobuche 004 (res)

Late December is low season.

Fourth Musketeer: Javier from Guatemala

A typical afternoon spent around a few kilos of incinerating yak dung.  Strangely enough, it doesn’t stink.  But maybe that’s because the air up there is too thin to carry odors.

2014-12-23 to Lobuche 008 (res)

2014-12-23 to Lobuche 011 (res)

Approaching 5,000m.

Taking a breather.

2014-12-23 to Lobuche 013 (res)

2014-12-23 to Lobuche 029 (res)

 

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 001 (res)

Always Coca-Cola.

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 008 (res)

Chris and Lukas huffing and puffing on the way up to the 5,650m summit of Kala Patthar, known for its splendid views of…

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 016 (res)

Mt. Everest on the left and Nuptse on the right.  Everest is substantially higher but, being situated a few kilometers further towards Tibet, doesn’t reveal its full glory until you get close.

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 028 (res)

Sunset on Christmas Eve.  Or, as Lukas called it, “Czech Christmas.”

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 030 (res)

 

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 036 (res)

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 040 (res)

After sundown.

 

2014-12-24 to Gorakshep 043 (res)

 

 

2014-12-25 to EBC and Lobuche 008 (res)

On the way to base camp.

 

2014-12-25 to EBC and Lobuche 011 (res)

The thing that looks like a frozen river is the Khumbu Glacier.

Conspicuously not visible from base camp: Everest itself.

On the first day of their actual ascent, real climbers have to climb the Khumbu ice fall, that part moving up and to the right after the glacier pulls a U-turn.

2014-12-27 to Lafarma 006 (res)

Stars @ 4300m

2014-12-27 to Lafarma 008 (res)

Note the alternate trekking path scraped into the side of the mountain there.

On that very path a few days later.

2014-12-28 to Gokyo (Ri) 003 (res)

2014-12-28 to Gokyo (Ri) 019 (res)

2014-12-29 to Phortse 006 (res)

2014-12-28 to Gokyo (Ri) 029 (res)

Ice lake at the base of Gokyo Ri.

2014-12-28 to Gokyo (Ri) 030 (res)

View from Gokyo Ri

 

Note: most photos featuring me were taken by this guy, Chris the Shaky.  Head over to his website, http://fromatobe.comdud, for many more awesome shots from the trek, including but not limited to landscapes, portraits, stars, local life, and selfies with baby yaks.

While you’re there, if you’re in the mood, consider supporting Liberty in North Korea with a donation or supporting Chris’ dinner fund by purchasing a photo.

 

 

2014-12-28 to Gokyo (Ri) 033 (res)

One final panorama…

 

 

2014-12-29 to Phortse 002 (res)

Such is the majesty of the Solu Khumbu region.  I may have spent significant parts of each day grumbling about the absurd prices, grimacing through frigid showers (well…only 3 of those over the course of the trek), cursing the cold atop viewpoints and on midnight bathroom runs, and otherwise in various states of frustration and discomfort; but, as it always is, even those memories grow dear in retrospect.  Life down on the ground, for all of the comforts and ease it brings, is so frequently hectic, full of decisions to be made and things to be done.  On a trek in the Himalayas, there are few such distractions, only pure air to fill your lungs with and  snowy peaks to gaze at in wonder.  Plenty of time to feel the snow crunching underneath your boots, or listen to the sounds of yaks grazing and breezes pushing their way through clusters of bamboo, or to take in the scent of downed juniper needles roasting in the sun.  To relish the hours passed around the fire chatting with friends old and new.  Problems from down below don’t vanish or solve themselves, but they are put into context: they happen here, on this Earth, home to indescribable beauty on the grandest of scales and simple joys on the humblest.  Perspective brings peace.  I guess I understand why so many people come back to do it all again.

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15 Responses to Xmas@17,598 Feet (AKA The Everest Post)

  1. Myra reichel says:

    Wonderful to hear the story of your adventure and see your photographs . I could not get to Chris s site from my browser I will try again.
    myra

    • Michael Roy says:

      Thanks for letting me know. This issue has been plaguing Chris on and off for a while now – http://fromatobe.com seems to always work, but inserting the www messes it up sometimes. I’ve fixed it in the post, but if you want to check out his stuff you can use this link, too. Glad to have you following!

  2. Nikita goud says:

    So inspiring mike. Massive hugs from California xx

    • Michael Roy says:

      Yo Niki! You’ve been in Cali the whole time I’ve been in Nepal, hope you’ve had a great time. My Nepal visa is up in 3 days and I’m heading back to India, finally Sadhana-bound for real! You ever coming back?

  3. mingyulee says:

    oh!!!! Thumbs up! Yo!!
    Everest is Everest!!!!

  4. Ralph W. Morton says:

    Well, Mike: What an adventure!! I hope your Dad sees this, and makes the effort to contact you and give you the same congratulations and admiration that I have for you. These memories will serve to make the photographs just duplicative, but they are wonderful for sharing with us old geezers. I just admire your effort and spirit of adventure. You have my best wishes always.
    R.

  5. Anna Z. says:

    Spectacular, Kroy! I love the photo of hijinks at the low altitudes, and all the rest! Beautiful!

  6. Jon Tamlyn says:

    Very enjoyable post and a good read, Mike. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Suze says:

    Such incredible pictures… The stars are literally awesome. What a journey Mike; though you may be one of 25,000 in a year don’t forget your experience is entirely your own, entirely unique, and you share it with such wit and humility and magic. So much love and respect xxx

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