S: Harold's Mount Everest Trek - April 28, 2006 to May 20, 2006
FC: Harold's Mount Everest Trek April 28, 2006 to May 20, 2006
1: Kathmandu - 4,600' - April 28 to May 2, 2006 Our trek organizers arranged for two days of sight seeing in Kathmandu before we set off on our trek to Mt. Everest. | My trek was made possible by Canadian Himalayan Expeditions Ltd. These shots taken from my room are of the central courtyard of my hotel, the Kathmandu Guesthouse, which was located in an area of Kathmandu called Thamel. | Cover Photo: Mt. Everest Massif taken at 18,200' from Mt. Kala Pattar See back cover for the trek map
2: A street near my hotel - the city population is around 600,000. Streets in this part of Kathmandu are very narrow and crowded with a lot of pedestrians, cars, motorbikes, hawkers and pedicabs. Walking here was almost as risky as my high altitude trek | Another street near my hotel - the blue sign in Hebrew says that a beauty product is sold here. Every time I went back to speak to the owners, the store was closed so I never did find out why the Hebrew sign.
3: Canadian Himalayan Expeditions provided us with a tour guide during our pre-trek stay in Kathmandu. There's a saying that Kathmandu has more temples than people. After our tour, I could well believe it. I took this photo at a Buddhist temple complex near the so-called "Monkey Temple." Here's Dawn, one of the two trekkers on my trip (Matt was the other), spinning prayer wheels. The man standing behind her is Mangalal, our guide. | Spinning prayer wheels is supposed to bring good karma. This mega prayer wheel in the temple sends 10,000 prayers skyward with each rotation. With the potential for altitude sickness and/or falling, I figured I'd need all the good karma I could get for my upcoming high altitude trek.
4: One of the resident monkeys of the "Monkey Temple," which is part of this large temple complex - we were warned that they bite, so we kept a healthy distance. | I'm looking up at the top of the temple complex. The stairs were alarmingly steep. But then so are some of the climbs on our trek. May as well get used to it now.
5: This is a view of part of Kathmandu from the top of the temple complex. The haze in the distance displays only a hint of the air pollution. Most of the vehicles run on diesel fuel, and their exhaust is black and fouls the air. Many people wore face masks because of the pollution. | A Maoist parade - it was, after all, May 1st - International Workers' Day.
6: The Bodhnath Stupa (Buddhist religious monument) is surrounded by a Tibetan community. It's one of the largest stupas in the world. | Citizens volunteer time to repair the layered walkways around the Bodhnath. It's considered a blessing to do so. I joined them here for about 15 minutes in the task of flattening and smoothing crushed bricks on a path.
7: A school in the Tibetan area around the Bodhnath Stupa - it's where students, under the guidance of a master (the individual closest to the window), create thangka paintings (Tibetan religious paintings). The designs are beautiful and elaborate - and for sale. | The Pashupati area is where many cremations are carried out. Here, a woman is being cremated. The flame is always started at the mouth by means of a flaming stick placed there by the eldest son. Notice the "Cornea Excision Centre" in the background where corneas are removed (if the family agrees) for transplant patients.
8: These Tibetan women are spinning wool for rugs at the Tibetan Jawalakhel Handicraft Centre. They work and live in a cooperative shelter for Tibetans who are refugees from the Chinese invasion. The money from sold rugs is returned to the cooperative. These beautiful Tibetan rugs sell for a fraction of the cost I'd have to pay in Toronto.
9: The last place we visited on our all day tour was Durbar Square. It's a complex of beautifully carved temples and monuments and includes the old royal palace. It's been declared a World Heritage Site. | We spent the next day going over important trek instructions with Chris Beall, our guide from Canadian Himalayan Expeditions. We were introduced to Santosh, our Sirdar (head Sherpa) and to our cook, Kul who, we were told, makes the best apple pie above 9,000' - which proved to be true. The most important safety rule we learned was to "walk when you walk and look when you look, but never both at the same time" or you might find yourself looking as you walk off a ridge for a 1,000' fall. We'll be up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to catch our flight to Lukla, where we begin out trek. I was too excited to get much sleep that night.
10: The Trek Begins - May 3, 2006 to May 17, 2006 (Distance to Mt. Everest base camp from Lukla is approximately 33 miles) | Day 1 - May 3: Our flight from Kathmandu to the Tenzing-Hillary Airport (named in 2008) in Lukla (9,383') took about 40 minutes with spectacular views of the Himalayas. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport has been called the most dangerous airport in the world because one end of the short, steeply sloped runway is a valley drop off of over 1,000' and the other end is a mountain wall. There are no go-arounds.The pilot has only one chance to get it right - and this in thin air at over 9,000'. Only STOL aircraft or helicopters can fly in or out. Our plane was a Dornier 228 STOL. You can see an airplane at the far end of the runway that has just taken off. | Dawn and Matt, my two fellow trekkers - they're overlooking the airport. At 64, I was more than twice their age, which might explain why they were always ahead of me during the trek. To their right is the airport and behind them is Lukla village and the start of the trail to Phakding, our first camp.
11: We were fortunate enough to be at the airport when Sir Edmund Hillary arrived by helicopter. Because of ill health, this was his last trip to the Solo Khumbu region (the area where Everest is located). His helicopter stopped at the airport for a photo op. He had just returned from Khumjung village (12,434') where the Hillary school is located. I eventually trekked to that school to present the headmaster with six copies of a book of poems called I Am a Rose by Stacey Levitt. She was a former student of mine who was killed on August 30, 1995 when she was struck by a car. The book was published posthumously by her father Ned Levitt.
12: Inside the Himalaya Lodge at Lukla - the man on the left is the lodge owner, Dawa Tshiring Sherpa. He accepted a copy of I Am a Rose and added it to the lodge's library. I had nine other copies that I distributed to other lodges on the way to Everest. The man on the right is Chris Beall, our trek guide. | The Himalaya Lodge is where our trek began and ended (15 days later). The lodge is located at the mountain end of and above the airport runway. Lukla and the trail to Phakding village, our first camp, are at my back. You can see some of the Sherpas and our duffel bags in the field. This is where everything needed for the trek was assembled. A little later, our dzopkios (part yak and cattle) arrived with their driver. These pack animals carried almost all of the camping equipment. All I had to carry was a day backpack, which weighed about 20 pounds.
13: En route to Phakding (8,661' - we drop down in altitude) - that's where we'll camp the first night. These are mani stones. We saw many of them during the trek. The stones are always carved in relief, with the lettering on them raised and usually painted white. The words are always the same - a Buddhist mantra, "Om Mani Padme Hum." Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the mantra (prayer) invites the blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. This is the same mantra that's found on all prayer wheels, which are spun clockwise. Mani stones are passed on the trekker's right for good karma. | One of the many bridges that criss-cross over the Dudh Kosi (Milk River), which runs through the Khumbu Valley. This one's on the way to Phakding. These metal bridges are a gift from the Swiss. From Lukla on, there are no wheels in use. Everything is transported by porters on foot.
14: Lunch at a lodge at Thado Kosi, a little over half way to Phakding. I'm sitting on the lodge deck looking back at a small bridge we just crossed over. At the end of each trekking section, our cook, Kul Brahadur, and his staff always had refreshing cups of sweet lemon water for us. Kul prepared fresh cooked delicious meals for us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On our trek back to Lukla from Everest, we stopped here again for lunch and then had to climb the steep hill you see in the background. It was the first of many climbs to reach Lukla. | A look up the Khumbu valley from Thado Kosi - up ahead is Phakding and beyond that, a climb of over 2,600' to reach Namche (11,319').
15: The Namaste Lodge at Phakding (8,661') - we've dropped down a bit in altitude, but that will change the next day. Pictured here is the lodge owner holding a copy of Stacey's book for her lodge library. From here, we trekked a short distance to our camp ground. We always tented and never stayed at lodges, except the last day when we returned to Lukla and Dawa let us sleep for free in his Himalaya Lodge. The man on the far right with the blue cap is Santosh Gurung, our Sirdar (lead Sherpa). When we reached our camp, Matt, Dawn and I climbed down to the Dudh Kosi to dip our feet in the glacial river. Tourists do that sort of thing. Not surprisingly, it was frigid. | Day 2 - May 4: The Dudh Kosi River - next day we were on our way to Namche (meaning "big dark forest"). It's the main Sherpa trading centre in the Khumbu region. We crossed here using the bridge in the distance.
16: Rush hour traffic on the way to the Namche climb - those horns are very, very long and very, very pointy. You keep your distance. These are not yaks. Yaks are found at much higher altitudes. These are dzopkios (yak/cattle mixture) and they prefer lower altitudes. All our duffels and tents were carried by dzopkios. By the way, there is no such thing as yak butter. Yaks are males. Females are called naks. | On one of the bridges over the Dudh Kosi - the sun glasses with all the UV radiation protection possible shielded not only my forward vision, but also my peripheral vision. The thin air at high altitude doesn't protect trekkers from UV radiation as well as the thicker air does at lower altitudes. The temperate weather in the valley was also deceptive. I didn't think I needed a hat, but because of the UV radiation, I later learned that this was a poor decision up here.
17: Ahhh, lunch, boots off and rest by the Dudh Kosi - our climb up to Namche will begin shortly. It's a 2,600' grunt straight up. One trekker from the U.S. we met on the way up to Namche said he couldn't understand. On the map, all this looks flat. | This high suspension bridge was built by the Swiss in 1989. Clearly, this trek is not intended for acrophobics. This bridge is just beyond the village of Jorsale and the entrance to the Khumbu National Park - a World Heritage Site. No wood is supposed to be cut or burned from this point on. All our meals were cooked using propane and all our garbage that could be was burned. All other garbage was carried with us until our return to Lukla. The climb up to Namche began just past this bridge.
18: After about a three hour panting climb, I reached Namche (11,319'). We slept here for two nights to acclimatize. If altitude is going to be a problem, it will most likely hit here. There were signs posted everywhere warning about the effects of high altitude sickness urging trekkers to descend immediately if affected. Fortunately, I never experienced any altitude sickness - not even a headache. And strangely, my appetite increased the higher we trekked. It's supposed to decrease. I did, however, lose about 10 pounds by the end of the trek from all the climbing. | Chris took me to the Himalayan Lodge to present the owner, pictured here, with a copy of Stacey's book for the lodge library.
19: More of Namche - notice the white pile of stones in the lower left corner. These stones are being hand chiseled into bricks for construction. No mortar is used. Namche is always expanding to meet the tourist trade. | In case you forget you're above 11,000', the clouds roll in to remind you. The entire village is nestled in a natural bowl in the side of the mountain. Our camp was situated at the top of the village. It took a while for me to reach our camp because the thin air slowed my progress. I had to stop to catch my breath for every 15 or 20 steps I took up the hill. From this point on, I experienced an occasional bout of Cheyne-Stokes Respiration – periodic breathing during sleep where the body seems to feel the need to breathe less and less, followed by rapid shallow breathing. I also started having high altitude nightmares once in a while - vivid and scary.
20: In the clouds at our campsite - now I'm wearing a cap that I bought in Namche because after trekking two days without one, I had developed weeping sores on the top of my head from the intense UV radiation. They healed in a couple of days. | Home, sweet home - the blue tent in the foreground belongs to Chris, our guide. The next three belong to the three trekkers (mine's the middle one with the duffel at the entrance). The green one housed some of the Sherpas and the blue one in the background is the latrine. A word about toilets in the Khumbu. Ours was a simple hole in the ground and you covered your business with dirt. All toilets above Lukla are stoop toilets.
21: The view from my doorstep - you don't want to be sleepwalking around here. You might find yourself on a one-way trip to the next terrace 20 feet below if you lost your footing.
22: Day 3 - May 5: This shot was taken as I climbed above and beyond Namche. The buildings on the hill in the background at the top of this picture belong to a Nepalese army base that we visited early in the morning. On this day, a Friday, Chris, Santosh and I climbed 1,115' to Khumjung village (which is really the "capitol" of the Khumbu region) to present the headmaster of the Hillary School with six copies of Stacey's book for the school library. I had already been in touch with him by e-mail and he was expecting me this day. The trek to Khumjung (12,434') also provided us with further acclimatization. The rule is to trek high and sleep low when possible. Matt and Dawn trekked with Moti Bhattarai, the assistant Sirdar, to another village for the day. It proved to be a serious problem for Dawn. More of that later. | See if you can spot our tents far below. They look like faint coloured dots on the top terrace just below a path bordering the foot of the wooded area to the right of this text. ------------------------->
23: Still climbing uphill to Khumjung - on the way, we passed the airstrip at Shyangboche (12,598'), the highest airstrip in Nepal, built in 1995. We had quite a long, steep uphill climb to reach the air strip. You can see a helicopter coming in for a landing. Soon after the airstrip opened, the lodge owners from Lukla went on strike and blocked the runway because the strip was being used to fly trekkers directly back to Kathmandu, bypassing Lukla. They were losing business. The strip is now used only for cargo shipments. There were piles of dressed lumber waiting for porters to carry to building sites. Their loads must have weighed at least a hundred pounds and more. Porters (male and female) are paid by the amount of weight they carry.
24: We climbed up another steep path above the air strip to reach this point. Chris and Santosh became my two personal guides, as it turned out. You can see the village of Khumjung behind them in the background (between the tree on the left and Chris). We'd eventually be leaving trees behind as we climbed higher. Because Dawn and Matt trekked quickly, I usually lagged behind by 15 to 20 minutes. So either Chris or Santosh would always trek with me, assuring me that my pace was the "normal" one. Chris would often remind me that this is not a race. | We're at the descent to the village of Khumjung. Because we descended about 164' to reach Khumjung, we ended up below the altitude of the air strip at Shyangboche. The Hillary High School can be seen in the foreground of the village (the large gray area is the playing field). As I descended the steep path to Khumjung, I mentally made note of the fact that I'd have to climb back up. In the Khumbu, down was invariably followed by up (and vice versa).
25: The headmaster of the Hillary High School, Mahendra Kathet, holding a copy of Stacey's book - I presented him with six copies for the school library and he was pleased to receive them. I also gave the school two dozen pens, which they always need. Mahendra sent the Levitts (Stacey's parents) a lovely e-mail praising the book and Stacey, and thanking them for the gift. Of course, to send the e-mail, Mahendra had to descend over 1,000' to Namche for Internet service. | This monument in the schoolyard is dedicated to Hillary.
26: One of the classrooms - notice the Star of David on the sign. It's the symbol for education in Nepal. We could hear the children reciting the lesson with their teacher. | Day 4 - May 6: Back at Namche the next morning, Saturday, on the top of the hill at the army base - Everest is off in the distance above my right shoulder. It was the first view of our destination. I mentioned that Dawn ran into problems on her trek yesterday. She had been invited by a Sherpa woman to have a cup of tea. The water for the tea hadn't been boiled long enough. Dawn suffered from G.I. problems for the next four days and ultimately had to drink salts. She also developed a headache that she thought was a sinus headache. It turned out to be mild altitude sickness and she had to go on diamox for a few days.
27: Because it was Saturday and bazaar day at Namche, Sherpas travelled from all over the Khumbu region to buy and sell. There's always brisk business. | Everything seems to make its way to the bazaar, chickens included. The bazaar is held at the lower part of the village, which meant a climb back up to the top of Namche for me in the thin air to reach our camp. From there, we would trek to the Everest View Hotel (12,730) and then on to Khumjung, where we'd spend the night. That would be my second visit to Khumjung.
28: What a view! That's Ama Dablam, the mountain with the thin, tall peak at the top right. And at the left is one of the transverse ridge trails we have to trek to get to the Everest View Hotel, where we'll take a brief rest on our way to Khumjung. | Santosh at the head of the ridge trail to the Everest View Hotel - remember the trekking rule of walk when you walk and look when you look, but never both at the same time or what you're looking at may be the last thing you see. The picture doesn't really reveal how steep the drop off is, but it's steep and varied between 800' to 1,000' down. The trails are very narrow (we usually walked single file) and if I were to take two steps toward the drop-off edge, the third would most likely be my last.
29: The terrace at the Everest View Hotel (four star, about $200 US per night) - the rooms are equipped with oxygen feeds for tourists who have climbed too quickly. The hotel was built by a Japanese consortium. All the building materials were carried here by porters. At 12,730', it's the highest situated hotel in the world. I’m now almost at the same elevation as the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies (Mt. Robson – 12,972’). Even though Everest was obscured by clouds this day, we had an excellent view of Ama Dablam (right side of the shot). | Dawn relaxing on the hotel terrace - you can see from the way she's dressed that even at around 13,000', the weather was mild. Only in the evenings, especially at higher altitudes, did the temperature drop, but it was never very cold. It usually rained in the mountains each day at around three or four o'clock in the afternoon but it was light and lasted a short period of time. At the higher altitudes, above 15,000', the rain occasionally turned to snow, which melted almost as it fell.
30: Our camp at Khumjung (12,434' - we've descended about 300' from the hotel) - the dzopkios and our duffels were waiting for us when we arrived. My duffel's the dark blue one with the red and white tag on it. Our dzopkio driver is unloading some supplies. Our camp is just to the east of the Hillary school that I visited yesterday. | Our camp site at Khumjung - the blue tent in the foreground is our dining tent. Kul, our cook, prepared (besides all our potable water) spaghetti, pizza, French fries, hardboiled eggs, chicken soup, porridge, water buffalo stew, chicken, chocolate cake, apple pie, Massala tea and quite a lot more. He always checked to make sure we were enjoying his meals. The next morning we'd be climbing the high ridge that you see behind the village.
31: Matt and Dawn are entering a gompa, shoes off (Buddhist temple - gompa literally means "meditation") in Khumjung, which houses, supposedly, a yeti scalp that we had to pay to see. I considered it a donation to the temple. Hillary had a hair from the scalp analyzed and it was identified as a hair from a local wild goat. It was clear to me, though, that Santosh considered it to be the genuine article. | The scalp is locked in a cabinet. The yellow ceremonial scarves around the scalp box are called khatars. Later that day, Matt trekked to an adjoining village called Kunde, site of the Hillary hospital, to give them medical supplies he had brought as a gift. Matt is a paramedic.
32: Back at our Khumjung campsite, and just "around the corner," up a small rise, this is what greeted me - a beautiful view of Ama Dablam. This is a zoomed shot. Our trek will take us past this mountain and around to the back of it. There's still a ways to go. The name Ama Dablam (22,349') means Mother’s Charm Box, named for the high hanging ice serac located just below the summit. Many climbers consider Ama Dablam to be the most famous rock-ice snow climb in Asia. Incredibly, Ama Dablam is considered a trekking mountain requiring no previous climbing experience to summit.
33: Day 5 - May 7: On the road again - we're headed to Phortse village (12,467'), but to get to it we need to top a ridge at 13,000'. Chris felt we could handle a steep climb porters use to top the ridge. You can just see Dawn and Matt (ahead of me as always) near the start of the steep climb, which is cut into the rock face above them. Yikes. | Chris gave everyone the option of taking a gentler, longer way up to the top of the ridge, which none of us opted for. I'm just about to start the very steep part of the trail and turned for the camera. The porter, whose load must weigh around 60 pounds, didn't seem the least bit concerned. The basket porters use to carry goods is called a doko.
34: At the top of the ridge - the edge of the vertical shadow will give you an idea of how steep and high the climb was. I'm looking back over the edge (the last step is the lit ledge in the lower right). This was the most harrowing climb on the trek. It was like a scene out of an Indiana Jones flick. No one, not even porters, will climb down using this route - only up. | The village of Phortse near the bottom of this shot - we're getting closer, except that we had to trek down a steep trail for about 1,200', cross a river, and of course, climb up another 1,200' to get to the village. And true to Chris's form, our camp was situated at the top of the village.
35: Day 6 - May 8: En route to Dingboche (14,271') - I've stopped to take in the incredible view - and to catch my breath. I'm forced to stop more often now because of the thinner air. I don't feel starved for air when I breathe; it's just that I can't go very far on a lung-full. Despite the stops, Chris assures me I'm making good time. | Approaching Phortse (12,467'), where we camped for the night - the next day, we would trek to Dingboche (14,271').
36: We stopped for lunch at Upper Pangboche (13,123'), where I took this shot of a little girl. The mountain children are a delight and clearly well-loved by their parents. The ones who are old enough to attend school, which is compulsory, wear school uniforms. It was fun to watch groups of them running and playing. They didn't have to stop and catch their breath. | A lodge in Upper Pangboche, where I left another copy of Stacey's book.
37: The owner of the lodge accepting the book - that's Moti, our assistant Sirdar standing off to the right. Moti is what's known as a climbing Sirdar. He usually works for mountain climbing expeditions. By the time we had reached this location, five people had died on Everest (three Sherpas at once in the Khumbu Icefall and two Europeans). One of the Sherpas who was killed was a close friend of Moti. He learned about the death back in Namche. Once we reached Dingboche later that day, we slept there for two nights to acclimatize before going yet higher. But after sleeping the first night at Dingboche, we didn't just sit around relaxing. We trekked up the Imja Khola Valley (Imja Kola is one of the glacial rivers, like the Dudh Kosi) to a village called Chukhung (15,584') in order to break the 15,000' ceiling. Then we would trek back down to Dingboche for the second night's sleep (climb high, sleep low).
38: From Upper Pangboche, we continued our trek to Dingboche, which involved several steep climbs, difficult at around 14,000'. I took this shot as we approached the village. The mountain in the distance up the valley (left of centre) is Island Peak (Imja Tse, 20,305') - another so-called trekking mountain. The next day, we trekked up this valley (Imja Khola Valley) toward Island Peak to reach Chukhung. Then, we trekked back to Dingboche. This village, by the way, is the highest point of arable land in the Khumbu region.
39: The Mountain Paradise Lodge in Dingboche (14,271') - the Sherpa holding a copy of Stacey's book is Pemba Sherpa, a good friend of Chris and the owner of this lodge we're sitting in front of, as well as another in Pheriche (14,340') called the Panorama Lodge. Pemba has summited Everest and has been to camp 4 (26,000' in the "Death Zone") on Everest many times. He accepted two copies of the book for both lodges. Because Pemba is hired by climbing expeditions to Everest and other mountains, his income is sizable by Sherpa standards. That's why he's the owner of two lodges. | I'm at our camp site at Dingboche overlooking part of the village. On the stone wall to the right are two of the aluminum bowls we used for washing various parts of our anatomy and clothing when the urge struck us. To minimize the possibility of G.I. infections spreading, we washed our hands before meals with an anti-bacterial soap and rinsed them in water laced with potassium permanganate. No towels were ever used to dry our hands or, for that matter, to dry the cooking utensils. Towels can't be easily laundered up here and so would become collectors and spreaders of bacteria.
40: Day 7 - May 9: On our way to the village of Chukhung - when we woke the next morning, we prepared to do the day trek up the Imja Khola valley to Chukhung (15,584'). We would return to Dingboche for a second night's sleep (climb high, sleep low). That's Island Peak ahead (Imja Tse is the Nepalese name - 20,305') getting closer. This is considered a "trekking" peak and can be climbed by trekkers with no previous mountain climbing experience. Later, when I returned to Kathmandu, I learned that heavy snow fall had closed the mountain to climbers. What's unusual about this picture? No hills. This trek, despite the altitude, was fairly easy because there were no ridges to climb. The next day, we trekked to Dughla. | Day 8 - May 10: On the way to Dughla (15,150') - after a second night's sleep at Dingboche, we were on our way to the lodge at Dughla. From this point on, there were no villages because of the severity of the altitude - only lodges to serve the trekkers. The trek, as you can see from this shot and the next two, presented few hills much of the way but there were some steep climbs thrown in for good measure. As Santosh would tell me, in the mountains, everything is "a little bit up and a little bit down." It was rarely "a little bit" though.
41: The next two shots (taken by Chris) are of all three of us trekking to Dughla. Can you guess who's bringing up the rear? Santosh (blue backpack) is in the lead. | Smile! The group portrait on the trek to Dughla - left to right: yours truly, Santosh, Matt and Dawn. From Dughla on, there were no more additional acclimatization days needed like the ones at Namche and Dingboche because we had all acclimatized successfully. Altitude sickness could still strike, though, if we climbed too quickly.
42: After about 2.5 hours, we reached Dughla, which is past this bridge and up a short hill (where the prayer flags are in the distance). At over 15,000', getting up this short hill to our camp had me huffing and puffing as though I'd just finished running a race. That's Moti on the bridge. The pack Moti is carrying on his chest is the medical kit, which consisted of various antibiotics, diamox (for altitude sickness), salts and antiseptic dressings. We also had a gamow bag (not pictured here), which is an inflatable pressure bag large enough to accommodate a person inside. By inflating the bag with a foot pump, the effective altitude can be decreased to about 9,700'. | The lodge at Dughla (15,150') - there are two lodges here. The other one's just below us at the left of this shot (see next picture). I'm relaxing with my cup of warm lemon water prepared by Kul, our cook. We were always given liquid at the end of each trekking section to re-hydrate. That's crucial in warding off altitude sickness. Our camp ground is at the right edge of the shot. The tents have yet to be set up.
43: I'm looking down on the other lodge just below ours. Later that evening while we were in our tents, the winds picked up considerably, the temperature dropped and we were pelted by freezing snow pellets. Eventually the wind died down, which was a relief because our tents continually flapped and the noise was loud. The snow melted quickly. The next day we would trek to Lobuche (16,207'), but to get there, we had to climb up the Khumbu terminal moraine, above the Khumbu Glacier. That's the back side of Ama Dablam ahead. It looks quite different from this side. | I'm still sitting and sipping at the lodge looking ahead at a very significant piece of real estate. Dughla is situated at the foot of the Khumbu Glacier terminal moraine and you're looking at it. That means we're closing in on Everest. The shot is deceptive. The moraine is a lot steeper and higher than it looks here - believe me. A word about my health on the trek - I never experienced any altitude sickness or any G.I. problems. Interestingly, though, because of the cold, dry air, the skin on the tip of my left thumb split and no matter how much I medicated or creamed it, my thumb refused to heal. It wasn't until I descended to a much lower elevation that it healed. There's not much oxygen up here.
44: Day 9 - May 11: After reaching the top (15,879') of the terminal moraine above Dughla, we arrived at a sizable knoll where chortens (stone memorials) to climbers/trekkers who have died in the Khumbu have been erected by family/friends. There were many of them. Revealing. | This is the entrance to the memorial site. Behind me is the the way back down to Dughla. Note the prayer flags, which send prayers skyward as they flutter in the wind. Everest base camp has a number of them strung up.
45: Trevor Stokol's chorten - Chris said this memorial was new, erected since his last visit in 2005. Notice the Star of David, which caught my attention. Trevor (25 years old, graduate of Emory University and about to enter medical school) went missing July 22, 2005 near Everest base camp. At this time, his body hadn't been found despite extensive searches paid for by his parents. But during the 2010 climbing season, his remains were discovered by a Sherpa drawing water from one of the many glacial lakes on the Khumbu Glacier near base camp. His remains were sent home for burial. He had fallen into one of the tiny glacial lakes as he trekked on the Khumbu Glacier alone. It's a grim reminder of just how lethal this area can be, especially if a trekker were to encounter a problem with no one nearby to help. | Scott Fisher's chorten - he was the leader of the ill-fated Mountain Madness Guided Expedition team in 1996. Jon Krakauer documented the many deaths that occurred that season on Mt. Everest in his book Into Thin Air. Trevor's monument is opposite Scott's.
46: These are our dzopkios and their driver passing through the chorten area on the way to our next camp at Lobuche (16,207'). My breathing has become laboured at this point. I don't feel starved for air, but I find myself panting deeply with every step. I began to wonder if I could summit Kala Pattar at over 18,000'. Chris assured me I could make the climb because my breathing was considered normal at this altitude. | Lobuche (16,207') - Jon Krakauer, in Into Thin Air, wrote disparagingly about Lobuche. He and the other climbers were forced to remain here for two nights while Rob Hall (the leader of Krakauer's expedition, who also died on Everest that season) had to tend to an emergency at Everest base camp (a day's trek away). A Sherpa had fallen into a crevasse above the ice fall and it took an entire day and 26 Sherpas to carry him down through the ice fall to base camp. The only two lodge "toilets" eventually overflowed during the delay, so Jon and the others left and trekked on their own into base camp. I took this shot standing on a ridge opposite Lobuche, where our camp was set up for the night. Climbing up here was an effort. The ridge behind Lobuche will give you an idea of the height of the ridge that I climbed and am standing on to take this shot.
47: From our campsite at Lobuche, I had a clear view of Mt. Lobuche (20,029' - left of centre) and the Lobuche glacier (to the right of Mt. Lobuche). Lobuche is also a trekking mountain. It takes two days to reach the summit. In case you hadn't noticed, we're well above the tree line at this point. Everything is lunar gray, brown or black. For the first time since I began the trek, it was cold enough to require wearing my thermal long-johns. I am, after all, above 16,000'. By comparison, the summit of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the French Alps, is 15,782'. | At this altitude, the sound of an approaching helicopter usually means a medical evacuation of an injured trekker or climber (or the body of one). Landing at this altitude is tricky because of the thin air. This helicopter was followed by one more, but as it turned out, it wasn't an emergency. It was members of an Everest climbing team (you can see them standing by the helicopter in this zoomed shot) being flown back to Kathmandu for some R and R before resuming their climb. That's an expensive journey because each flight costs around USD $5,000. The next morning, we were to be woken at 4:00 a.m. because we had a long day ahead of us, which would involve trekking to Gorak Shep (16,962') and then climbing Mt. Kala Pattar if the visibility is good.
48: Day 10 - May 12: On the way to Gorak Shep (16,962') and Kala Pattar ("Black Mountain") - it took a lot of uphill trekking to get there. The mountain just visible behind me is Pumori, part of the Everest Massif. I'm dressing more warmly now, especially in the early morning and evening. Notice all the loose glacial scree. Every step I took had to be a deliberate one. A wrenched knee or twisted ankle up here could mean an expensive helicopter flight back to Kathmandu. And at this altitude, I'd have to descend (walking injured or carried) to a lower altitude for a helicopter to reach me. | At last, looking down on the Khumbu Glacier - if we were to follow the glacier we'd eventually reach Everest base camp. Because the glacial crevasses can be deadly, we trekked via a higher parallel trail and not on the glacier itself.
49: Looking down on another section of the Khumbu Glacier from the trail. | That black "mound" in the distance is Kala Pattar, the mountain I intend to summit later this day. The summit of Kala Pattar is 18,400'. It grew ominously in height as we approached. The mountain behind it is Pumori (23,494').
50: Santosh, Kala Pattar and I - that's Gorak Shep lodge (16,962') below by my right knee. The white area below Gorak Shep is a dried lake bed. Our tents were pitched there for the night. As we approached the mountain my doubts increased as it grew in height. I kept thinking that I'd be closing in on over 18,000' uphill. Added to that, I had been trekking since breakfast at 4:30 a.m. for over seven hours with no rest. I was very tired by the time I started my climb up Kala Pattar, which began as soon as I arrived at the foot of the mountain. It would take me over two hours to summit, so the climb had to begin immediately because we'd have to be off the mountain before dark for safety reasons. You can see part of the climbing trail, the two white parallel lines between Santosh and me. It's a lot steeper than it appears. The dark rocks at the very top mark the summit. The climb is deceptive because you can't see the summit even when you're half way up. It seems as though you'll never reach it.
51: I've started the climb. That's Nuptse in the top right corner and just to its left is Everest. Nuptse is also part of the Everest Massif. The slope I'm on was the "flattest" part of the climb. You can see where this shot was taken by looking at the previous photo. I'm where the break in the two paths can be seen. I'm now well over 17,000' and less than a quarter of the way to the summit. You can see from the blue sky that we had exceptional weather for the climb. Trekkers who arrived later in the day and the next day would see very little because clouds rolled in. | I'm about a third of the way up Kala Pattar at this point. The angle of the slope appears more shallow than it really is. The mountain on the left side of this shot that appears to have a white collar near its summit is Changtse (24,878'). It's in Tibet and is connected to Everest by the North Col, a land bridge that climbers attempting to climb Everest via one of the north routes have to reach in order to access the ridges that eventually lead to the Everest summit. The pointed peak in the middle of this shot is the west shoulder of Everest and the highest peak in the upper right corner is the reason I've been trekking for the last 10 days. The white mass above my hat is the Khumbu Ice Fall - a moving, frozen waterfall that climbers have to navigate to get to camp 1 on Everest. More climbers have died in the Ice Fall than on any other part of the Everest climb - crushed by falling blocks of ice the size of houses or killed by falling into crevasses that have to be crossed by walking on aluminum ladders laid out over them.
52: I saw many domesticated animals (dzopkios, yaks, sheep and goats), but I didn't spy much wildlife. Below is wild life. It's a Himalayan Ular Snow Cock, which happened to be very friendly. I did see a Himalayan tahr (wild goat), a mountain pica (small rodent) as it flashed by and a number of regal eagles soaring through the valleys. This shot was taken just over half way up Kala Pattar. The Kala Pattar Snow Cocks are all friendly because climbers are generous with handouts. Chris and I were no exception. This critter got bread from us. Chris climbed Kala Pattar with me. Matt and Dawn had already summited by this time and were on their way down. | Everest behind me (above) - as you can see, there was some snow on Kala Pattar. This shot was taken near the lower summit (18,200').
53: I'm at the lower summit of Kala Pattar (18,200'). At this altitude, there's only half the amount of oxygen found at sea level; gradual deterioration of physical well-being will occur if anyone stays here for an extended period of time. I'm leaning on a boulder beside the location where I placed a memorial to Stacey's memory. It was a small acrylic mountain given to me by her dad Ned. Embedded in the acrylic were Stacey's birth and death dates and a poem that I chose that she had written about a climb she made in South America. The memorial faces Mt. Everest. It's the triangular piece just above my left knee. I then recited the mourner's Kaddish (prayer for the dead) in her memory. While I know it by heart, it was difficult to focus at over 18,000' and so I read it from a sheet I had carried with me. | That's the upper summit of Kala Pattar. The mountain in the background is Pumori. You can see some people approaching the upper summit. I'm about 100 vertical feet below it, but I was so exhausted by this time that I had no energy left to climb the last distance. I had been up since 4:00 a.m. and by this time had trekked and climbed for over 10 hours in total. At 18,200' I just couldn't take one more step towards the upper or true summit. Chris suggested I walk over to the edge of Kala Pattar that overlooked Everest and the base camp and take some pictures because Everest can't be seen from base camp. The surrounding peaks block the view.
54: Zoom shot of Everest Base Camp (17,500') from Kala Pattar - the coloured dots to the immediate left of the Khumbu Icefall where it curves are the tents at base camp.
55: My shot of Everest taken from Kala Pattar at 18,200' - from left to right: Changtse, Khumbu Ice Fall, South Shoulder of Everest, Everest pyramid and Nuptse. After I took this picture, I headed back down Kala Pattar to our camp. And it was on the way down that I had my accident.
56: Near the base of Kala Pattar just below where the two paths meet (see > above), my right foot slipped out from under me. I fell on my side against a rock and fractured two ribs on my right side, although I had to wait for X-rays on my return to Toronto to discover that. Most mountain climbing accidents occur on the way down. The footing is less secure because on the way down, climbers are stepping away from the mountain, not into it as they do on the way up. Also, climbers are usually exhausted on the way down. I was certainly that. I was now faced with trekking the 33 miles back to Lukla in some considerable pain. The next day (day 11, May 13), we were up at 4:00 a.m. Dawn, Matt and Moti trekked to Everest base camp, which was about 1.5 hours away. The visibility was poor; everything was shrouded in clouds. I elected to start my trek back to Lukla because there's not much to see or do at base camp and I had already reached 700' above base camp elevation, which was my goal. And climbing more ridges didn't appeal to me because I was in pain. Also, the footing everywhere is tricky and I didn't want to risk another injury in the poor visibility. Instead, Chris, Santosh and I started the trek from Gorak Shep back down. Our goal was to reach Dughla by early afternoon. We had taken two days to climb from Dughla up to Gorak Shep because we had to acquire altitude slowly. That precaution isn't necessary going down. In fact, even though it took us 10 days to trek from Lukla to Gorak Shep, it would take only four to return to Lukla. When Dawn and Matt finally reached Dughla from Everest base camp later that afternoon, we learned that in the poor visibility Matt had stumbled and he believed broke his left heel. In fact, when he returned to Brooklyn, he discovered that he had actually broken his heel in two places. He had to inject himself in the groin every morning with a powerful pain killer in order to keep walking. I made do with fistfuls of Tylenol quick dissolve capsules that Dawn gave me. That just took the edge off the pain and allowed me to trek, albeit slowly. | ______________________________ | >
57: Day 12, May 14 I took this photo after sleeping fitfully overnight at Dughla. If you look closely, you can see Moti some distance ahead of me (the light blue dot below the centre of the shot). He should have slowed his pace to match mine, but didn't although he looked back at me from time to time to make sure I was still vertical. I'm on the way to Pheriche village (14,340'), which is just barely visible off in the distance (centre of the photo above Moti's head). Located at Pheriche is one of two medical centres up here - the other is at Kunde, next to Khumjung. Climbers who need immediate medical attention are brought here because of its proximity to the Everest Massif. They can also be air evacuated from this village. The far off mountain at the left is Ama Dablam from the back side. Already, the drop in altitude was making breathing easier and this gentle downhill trek in this beautiful valley wasn't that difficult. Nonetheless, my injury hurt so much that I was lagging over an hour behind Matt and Dawn. At Pheriche, where we stopped for lunch, I swallowed some Tylenol and after lunch, when we headed off to the monastery at Tengboche (12,664'), my pace picked up a little.
58: From Pheriche on the way to Tengboche monastery - we descended further until we reached this trail that wound its way slightly uphill through this beautiful rhododendron forest. The last part of the trail, however, involved a very steep and very long climb to reach the monastery. I might have known. | At the Tengboche monastery (12,664'), the largest gompa in the Khumbu region - that's a yak behind me. It was around 3:00 p.m. and at three, the monastery allowed visitors inside. Dawn, Matt and I sat quietly while the seated monks sipped tea and chanted prayers. It was so peaceful, I could have sat (and slept) there for hours.
59: Our camp ground at the monastery - the yak kept us company. | Some shops near the monastery - after dinner that night, Chris and Santosh had a serious chat with me concerning the remainder of the trek. The next day was going to be particularly difficult because it involved a steep and long descent from Tengboche down to the Tsola River with a steep climb up the side of the ridge on the other side followed by a long trek back to Namche for lunch. After lunch, we had to make the 2,600' descent from Namche to the Dudh Kosi valley. They felt I would trek too slowly to make Namche before the end of the day let alone by lunch. They offered me two choices. I could be helicoptered back to Kathmandu. I had insurance to cover the cost, but I had walked all the way to Everest and I wanted to walk back. The next choice was to hire a horse when I reached Namche to ride down the 2,600' the next day after sleeping the night in Namche. I knew my ribs wouldn't take the pounding. Instead, I suggested that I leave two hours before everyone else the next morning at 5:00 so that I had a chance of making Namche by noon. They agreed. Of course a dog barked the entire night without stopping even for a breath, robbing me of desperately needed sleep. The next morning, on day 13, May 15, Santosh and I left camp and headed downhill. Kul, thoughtful as always, had packed a meal for me. As it turned out, I made Namche in four hours arriving by 9:00 a.m. It was decided that I'd be able to trek the rest of the way without any problems. After lunch, we headed down off the Namche hill and trekked to a point half way to Lukla, where we camped for the night. The next morning, on day 14, May 16, we headed for Lukla. It took most of the day for me to get there at my slow pace and it ended with a long and difficult climb of about 1,000' from the Dudh Kosi valley back up to Lukla.
60: Day 14, May 16 Back at Lukla after dinner (which included chocolate apple pie for dessert) in the Himalaya Lodge, we presented the trekking team with their well-deserved tips. The crew from right to left are Santosh Gurung, our Sirdar; Moti Bhattarai, our Assistant Sirdar; our dzopkio driver; Prakash (the one standing at the back) who served us all our meals; and Kul Bahadur (the one in red), who was our cook. His meals were varied and delicious. His water buffalo stew was to die for - really. The next morning, day 15, May 17 we'd catch our fight back to Kathmandu. Dawa Tshiring Sherpa, the owner of the Himalaya Lodge was kind enough to let us sleep overnight in his lodge at no cost because it was near the end of trekking season and there were a number of unoccupied rooms. I was relieved to be able to sleep my last night in the mountains in a bed. My injury made sleeping in the tent confined in a sleeping bag difficult and uncomfortable.
61: This is a week's worth of growth. Shortly after Matt took this shot, I had a long, hot shower (hadn't had one in six days), changed into clean clothes and shaved off the beard despite everyone's protests. The next morning (day 15, May 17) we flew from Lukla back to Kathmandu for three days of R and R. I was healing rapidly during the three days in Kathmandu and needed very few Tylenol capsules. It was great to sleep in a bed at the Kathmandu Guesthouse and not have to squat to use the facilities. Dawn and I were on the same flight back to Canada from Kathmandu to Muscat, Oman and from there to Heathrow. At Heathrow we parted company as she flew off to Calgary and I to Toronto. | Trekkers and climbers are usually inspired to relate some life lessons learned from their journey to remote places on earth. So who am I to buck tradition? I learned: - that I don't like the look or feel of my beard no matter what others may think - how to use a squat toilet properly, which was a lesson I learned the hard way - that after witnessing my first avalanche on the leg to Dughla, the forces of nature are beyond human control, no matter how arrogantly we may think otherwise - how accepting and caring the Sherpas are, even to a total stranger - that gazing upon the summit of Everest from so close becomes a daily memory that never dims - finally, that my 64-year-old bones, muscles and lungs were fit enough to enable me to reach 18,200', a height that most will never attain, and I am exceedingly proud of that