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Bangkok, tuesday 6/2

Bangkok, Tuesday 6/21

A long series of flights began on 6/19 from Dallas to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Osaka, and
then from Osaka to Bangkok, where we arrived around 11:00 pm local time last night. We
checked our duffel bags through to Kathmandu in Dallas – we hope to see them later today when
we land at Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu.
We checked into the Asian Airport Hotel around 12:30 am after a van ride from the airport last
night. We were joined in the van by a couple in their 60’s that are also flying from Bangkok this
morning. We had no idea what to do when we arrived at the airport here. But someone at an
information desk paged a representative of the hotel, who carried with him a sheet of paper with
our names on it as guests of the hotel, and we were escorted to the van without any problems.
My hotel room here is “western” with serviceable amenities like those found in 2- or 3-star hotels
in the United States. I have no complaints after a few days of airplane seats and lavatories. We
have 2 rooms on the 16th floor overlooking a courtyard in the center of the building’s four
connecting wings. The courtyard features a large swimming pool on the level of floor 10.
Last night when we arrived at the hotel, I was surprised to see a pack of 8-10 dogs loitering near
the hotel entrance. They appeared to be similar in type, reminding me a bit of the Shar-Pei
breed, but with obvious variations on the breed from who-knows what sources. The hotel staff
appeared to tolerate their presence, as if it were the norm. And the pack itself seemed to convey
some level of purpose, but I can’t imagine what it might be – or at least, I don’t want to imagine
what it might be (I wonder if they eat dogs in Thailand, or at least the slow ones…).
We have a wake-up call scheduled for 7:30 am to catch the return ride to the airport at 8:30. I am
awake at 6:00 though, sipping Nescafe made from bottled water, and writing in this journal. Light
spilling into the room from the balcony promises a sunny morning in Bangkok.
From our limited nighttime view from the hotel van, Bangkok seems to be a mixture of modern elements (like raised superhighways) and small rundown storefronts in aging buildings. We will get a better look today in the light. Kathmandu, Tuesday 6/21

We successfully exited Thailand and have settled into the Marshygandi Hotel in the Thamel
district of Kathmandu. We happened upon some of our fellow trekkers at the airport in Bangkok.
Cloud cover over this part of Nepal prohibited any good views of the Himalaya out the starboard
windows of the 777 as we descended into Tribhuvan airport.
We loaded into a van provided by Last Frontiers Trekking, whose representatives met us outside
customs, and were introduced to the wild and crazy Kathmandu traffic. Here, bravery is the
primary qualification for driving. The roads and streets are for the most part narrow, winding, and
poorly (if at all) paved. And there is little or no traffic control in terms of signage or signals. It’s
every man for himself! Most of the vehicles are motorcycles of the 125- to 250-CC caliber, and
they dart in, out, and around amid the rickshaws, cars, vans, and pedestrians. It is absolutely
crazy, and I never felt comfortable in traffic – either as a passenger or while on foot. It is a
miracle that more people are not injured in accidents here.
I am rooming with Todd at the Marshygandi, and will continue to be paired with him during our
trek while tent camping and while we are staying in lodges. I soon realize that I’m lucky to have
Todd as a roommate, as he is about as messy as I tend to be, and he is perpetually in a good
mood.
Kathmandu, Wednesday 6/22

Today we took a tour of Kathmandu via the company’s shuttle van. We visited several temples,
saw monkeys and dogs, and waded through small mobs of street hawkers that thronged around
us wherever we went. We had lunch on a restaurant terrace overlooking one of the temples.
Most of the tour was dedicated to driving from one stop to the next in Kathmandu’s frenetic traffic,
through muddy winding streets. It is common here for same-sex pairs of people to walk together
with hands clasped or arms interlinked. But it is not proper for men and women to touch while
walking together.
Back at the Marshygandi Hotel, we met with Mingma of Last Frontiers. He described the plan for
the next day’s flight to Lukla. We gave him our passports and paper tickets for our return flights,
and completed a form for the embassy.
Our group had dinner at K. C.’s Restaurant near the hotel in Thamel. Everyone is enthusiastic
about beginning the trekking, but a bit anxious. We know there will be some tough times ahead.
I took 125mg Diamox this morning and another dose in the evening to assist in acclimatization.
Our group is all packed up and ready for our 5:00 a.m. breakfast.
Kathmandu, Thursday 6/23

I made it downstairs with my gear for breakfast at 5:00 a.m. We loaded up and were off to the
airport for our short 30-40 minute flight to Lukla, where we would begin the trek into the
mountains. Later that morning we were sitting aboard the twin-engine turbo-prop when it was
announced that weather at Lukla was preventing any landings there. We returned to the terminal
and waited until nearly 11:00 a.m. before the flight was cancelled. The weather would not clear at
Lukla.
It was back to the hotel in the shuttle van – after retrieving all our gear from the airplane and
carting it out of the airport. On the way to the hotel, we made a stop at a Hindu cremation site
along the river. The deceased is placed atop a stack of wood and what appeared to be wet
straw, and set ablaze. When the body is consumed, and all that is left is ashes, the remains are
simply pushed off the pier into the river.
We had lunch at the hotel, visited the “high speed” internet shop, and went shopping along the
streets in Thamel. I took a nap before dinner at a Nepalese restaurant. Then it was more
Diamox and time for bed. Tomorrow we try again to get to Lukla, beginning with breakfast at 5:00
a.m. Kathmandu is getting old. I am ready for the mountains!
Lukla, Friday 6/24

We made it to Lukla by airplane this morning. I sat directly behind the open cockpit, which
provided a spectacular and rather amazing view of the approach to the famous uphill landing strip
at Lukla. We literally flew directly toward the side of a mountain, where the short airstrip abruptly
ends. The near edge ends in a sheer drop-off to the valley floor far below.
We hiked to Phakding, losing about 600 feet of altitude from the 9,000 ft. elevation at Lukla. Still,
there were some uphill stretches that I was forced to take slowly due to being short of breath.
Even at this moderate altitude, exertion quickly causes rapid breathing (exacerbated by the
Diamox). I hope to acclimatize and feel stronger soon.
Our camp at Phakding is set next to a nice lodge. We have very nice REI-brand dome tents that
accommodate 2 persons and duffel bags. The tent fly has a built-in vestibule that allows us to
keep our backpacks and dirty boots (and for Todd and me, our stinky socks) outside of the tent.
We crossed the Dudh Kosi river several times today by suspension bridges. The river, as
indicated by its name (Dudh meaning milk), is white with glacial sediments from Everest and its
surrounding lesser giants. This river is the highest in the world. The Dudh Kosi roars by near our
tents at Phakding, washing away lingering thoughts of civilization. I am beginning to love it here.
Its ruggedness and natural beauty are wonders. Everyone should see this place.
Tomorrow we trek to Namche, which will be much more difficult than today’s journey from Lukla.
It will be the first test for our group.
Namche, Saturday 6/25

As expected, the trek from Phakding to Namche was a tough one, especially after the final river
crossing. From there, it was consistently uphill to Namche at 10,800 ft.
We spent the night in a house owned by Thubten, our trip leader. I am growing to like and respect him more every day. Namche is the center of Khumbu commerce and activity. It consists of lodges, shops, and houses built tier-upon-tier in a natural amphitheater high on the side of a mountain. Tomorrow we will acclimatize by climbing above Namche and returning to sleep here another night before continuing further into this wild place. Namche, Sunday 6/26

We awoke early again today, and after a quick cup of tea walked above the village in hopes that
the weather would clear enough to get our first views of Everest. The clouds would not
cooperate, however. We descended to the house for breakfast, and then geared up again for a
trek to the Everest View Hotel. The trip was a tough, steep hike. But we were rewarded by
stunning views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Kantega, Ama Dablam, Thamserku, and others.
These sights were absolutely amazing, and our group commented that we were soon running
short of adjectives to describe the vistas. It is difficult to describe the effect these Himalayan
giants have on one’s sense of scale. Sitting at an altitude of 12,700 ft. on the hotel terrace, the
summit of Everest was yet more than 3 vertical miles above us. Eyeing the settlements in the
valley far below Lhotse and Nuptse, I marveled at the immensity of these peaks. I can only
imagine, for now, what the view would be from the top of Everest at 29,028 ft.
The Everest View Hotel is closed, but we were allowed in, and took photographs from the sunny
terrace. Coming down to Namche was a knee-testing hike along the steep trails. We soon were
eating lunch, and plans were made to visit the monastery in Namche during the afternoon. After
lunch I couldn’t resist a nap, and missed the monastery trip, though. Some of the group loved
their visit there, and received the blessings of the monks for a successful trip through the region.
Khumjung, Monday 6/27

Today we retraced our route from yesterday to above Syangboche airstrip, then took the trail to
Khumjung. At Khumjung we ate lunch in a lodge owned by Kajee’s (one of our porters) wife’s
parents. Judy and John brought pencils to distribute to the children at the Khumjung School,
which was built by Edmund Hillary.
After lunch we made the long trek to Muong La, mostly uphill. We crossed the pass and
descended 1200 feet in an hour to our campsite at the edge of the Dudh Kosi river. Everyone
was tired from the seven-hour trip from Namche. We were soon finished with dinner and
everyone headed for their tents to turn in early.
Tomorrow we have to cross the river and climb out of its basin. We will head toward Phortse, and
camp at Pangboche.
Pangboche, Tuesday 6/28

We arrived at our campsite around 10:30 a.m. after 3 hours of mostly tough going. We hiked up
from the river to the village of Phortse, which contains some of the oldest existing family dwellings
in the region.
It was more uphill from Phortse, as we traversed the mountain enroute to where we are camped at Pangboche. Along the way, we could see the Tengboche Monastery in the distance. We will stop there when we return from Everest Base Camp and Kala Pathar. Most of the major peaks were obscured by clouds, but after arriving at Pangboche we were able to take photographs during brief breaks in the cover. Tomorrow we trek to Dingboche and stay for 2 nights. The trip will likely be a tough one, with an overall increase in altitude. Slowly, we are moving higher. My altimeter and Thubten’s never read the same value, so we don’t really know how high we are. My altimeter reads 12,500 ft. here at our campsite at Pangboche. If the sky is clear early tomorrow morning, I hope to use the 200mm lens to take some photographs. Dingboche, Wednesday 6/29

Today we are camping at Dingboche, after hiking about 3hours from Pangboche. The hiking was
the easiest of any day so far, with few difficult uphill stretches. My altimeter reads 13,600 ft., but
we believe we might be higher.
This afternoon we are free to lounge in our tents, walk around the village, or do laundry. Our plan
is to spend 2 nights here before moving higher. Tomorrow morning we will take an
acclimatization hike above Dingboche.
We ate dinner in a lodge next to where we are camped. The lodge owner built a fire of dried yak
dung and the dining room was warm and dry. The nights here are cold, and the fire was very
nice. Some of us spread wet clothing on chairs in the room so as to dry them.
Dingboche, Thursday 6/30

It is a rainy and misty morning at Dingboche. After breakfast we took a slow hike above the
village, to near 15,000 ft. for acclimatization. Clouds spoiled the views of the surrounding peaks,
but the exercise felt good.
After lunch we are planning another short hike of about an hour. Tomorrow will be a tough trip to
Lobuche. We are all hopeful that the weather will be good for hiking. If not, we will walk in the
rain. I am also hoping for the clouds to clear long enough to see and photograph the mountains.
I have switched to my second battery for the Nikon camera. The camera and lens are heavy, but
it is worth the effort for the photographs they produce. In clear weather, I will try the bigger lens
to get some close-ups of these giant peaks.
Our porters, kitchen staff, guides, and leaders are a pleasure to be with. They take care of every
possible need, and are perpetually cheerful. Everyone in our group is holding up fairly well,
although intestinal disorders have been making the rounds.
We are sharing medicines and becoming closer as the days go by. Everyone is enthusiastic
about getting to Lobuche and beyond.
Lobuche, Friday 7/1

We hiked to Lobuche today, stopping for lunch on the trail. I put a small stone atop a chorten memorializing Scott Fischer of Mountain Madness fame, who died descending from a successful summit attempt on Mt. Everest on May 10, 1996. Tomorrow we go to Gorak Shep and then hope to either climb Kala Pathar or trek to Everest Base Camp, depending on the weather. Either way, it will be a very difficult day. I have developed some type of intestinal bug, complete with cramps – a bummer, but I guess it was my turn. I hope to feel better tomorrow. Gorak Shep, Saturday 7/2

We left Lobuche at 5:45 a.m. and stopped for breakfast at Gorak Shep. Our initial plan was to
continue on and climb Kala Pathar, but the clouds would have prevented any photographs of the
high peaks (Kala Pathar offers some of the best views of Everest and its companion peaks, and
many famous photographs have been taken from the top of Kala Pathar).
We trekked to Everest Base Camp, instead – a grueling 6-hour roundtrip that left everyone
exhausted. Along the way, we trekked in rain, wind, and sleet across the Khumbu Glacier’s rocky
moraine, jumping across small crevasses from time-to-time. A helicopter had recently crashed
while attempting to land at Base Camp, and we posed for photographs standing next to it. I found
a small rock to bring home, and Tek (our sirdar) gave me another small stone as a souvenir. I
joked with him that even these small stones were too heavy for me, and that he would have to
carry them. Tek is a tremendously strong Sherpa. I have no doubt he could have carried me and
my small rocks back to Gorak Shep with little trouble. Tonight we are camped at Gorak Shep and
will try Kala Pathar tomorrow morning, then hike down to Lobuche.
In the course of every adventure, there are memorable events. Certainly the memories of our
trek to Everest Base Camp will remain with me for a lifetime. But there was another incident early
in the morning after our arrival at Gorak Shep and before we left for Base Camp. In the lore of
our group, this incident has become known as The Altimeter Incident. A recount follows.
The Altimeter Incident
The toilets of the Khumbu are rated on the Judy Geshi scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating (note: there are no 5-rated toilets in Nepal). The outdoor “squatter” toilet at Gorak Shep might generously be rated a 2, with minor deductions for odor quality and depth of its contents, which are clearly visible about 6 feet below the hole in the floor. One wonders, how deep is this muck… It was during a visit to this toilet that I experienced the abject horror of seeing my altimeter fall from its clip on a loop of my trekking pants and plop into the semi-solid brown mush directly beneath the toilet. As is often the case in traumatic events, this seemed to occur in slow motion, and as if it were part of a dream world, not the real world where altimeters are prohibited from embedding themselves in human waste. I stared incredulously down into the toilet as I hurriedly zipped and closed my pants. I could see my half-buried altimeter below. Set to display its “time” mode, I watched as the instrument blinked the seconds away while I stood stunned, unable to think clearly about what to do next. I soon recovered and staggered out of the toilet and found our sirdar, Tek. After a few moments, during which he no doubt had some difficulty believing what I was telling him, Tek yelled out a few commands and mobilized what seemed like the entire Sherpa staff. The immediate objective was to find a length of wire that could be lowered into the toilet to hook the altimeter by its loop and pull it to safety. Various Sherpas produced sticks, nylon cords, lengths of rope, and other items as Tek waved each of them away as unsuitable. Then Kajee produced an old ice axe which the Sherpas used to dig holes for our toilet tent that was used when we were camped away from the lodges. Kajee was soon directed to the toilet, where he discovered that it was he who Tek expected to retrieve the altimeter. Immediately I saw the cautious side of Kajee emerge, as he tentatively approached the hole in the toilet and peered into it to get a bearing on the altimeter. Then he made a reluctant attempt at retrieval, soon surrendering and announcing that it was not possible. It was quite amusing to the other Sherpas, but none stepped forward to give it their own try. I took the ice axe from Kajee, lay down prone on the floor of this unholy place, and leaned my head, arm, and shoulder into the hole. I barely hooked the altimeter, pulled it dripping from the suction grip below, and handed it swinging from the ice axe to a wide-eyed Kajee. I have seen the Sherpas race along the steep trails under full load, but never have I witnessed speed the likes of which they displayed as they fled from the area surrounding the toilet, scattering and laughing as Kajee walked along with the altimeter and ice axe held at arms-length from his body. Immediately a bowl of iodine-laced water was produced and Nima cleaned the altimeter. Then Kajee and I tried to clean off my blue rain jacket, which now sported brown accents here and there. We got most of the offending material cleaned off, but the Sherpas gave me plenty of room the rest of the day. Tek walked away shaking his head… Gorak Shep, Sunday 7/3

Around 5:00 a.m. we set off for Kala Pathar, a subordinate peak of 5545 meters that offers
superb views (weather permitting) of Everest, Nuptse, Lohtse, Pumori, and other higher
mountains. The trail begins near Gorak Shep, winding steeply upwards. This was a tough
ascent, but the weather was fine. Our Sherpas actually trekked up after us and brought tea,
which we drank on the summit of Kala Pathar.
We took photographs of one another sitting on the summit, and watched for openings in the
clouds that might reveal views of Everest towering nearby. We were never treated to any
spectacular views, but we could clearly see Everest Base Camp, the Khumbu Icefall, and Nuptse
rising in the foreground.
We returned to Gorak Shep for a late breakfast, then hiked down to Lobuche, where we will camp
for the night. We have a long day tomorrow, descending to Deboche. We will likely be trekking
for 7 hours. I think I am recovering from my intestinal distress, but I was very weak yesterday and
today, making the trip to Everest Base Camp and the climb of Kala Pathar very difficult for me. I
hope to be stronger for our trek tomorrow.
Deboche, Monday 7/4

We made it to Deboche via Pheriche, arriving in the rain. To Pheriche, where we ate lunch, took
2 hours and 30 minutes. Another 2 hours and 30 minutes after lunch saw us in Deboche, after a
mostly downhill trek. Tomorrow we trek to Namche, with a stop at the Tengboche Monastery. It
is described as a short day on the trail, but we begin with a long steep section above Deboche.
The staff hung balloons in the dining room of a lodge here in honor of Independence Day. This was yet another example of the first-rate treatment we are receiving from the Last Frontiers staff. We saw many yaks today, including some calves. It was interesting to see the changes as descended, from virtually no plant life to small flowers, then shrubs, and finally trees of many types. I could sense the oxygen coming more easily into my lungs as we marched lower down the valleys. With the richer air, our appetites have improved. Hopefully, we will begin to sleep more soundly, too. We think tonight is our last night of sleeping in tents, but Thubten has said we might pitch the tents at Namche – we can’t tell if he is kidding us or not. Most of us have reached our tent-camping threshold! We are weary of the necessity of crawling from the tents in the middle of the night for visits to the toilet tent. This procedure requires exiting a warm sleeping bag, opening the tent to a rush of cold air or rain, jamming bare feet into cold boots, and donning enough clothing to survive the walk to the toilet. This sequence is usually repeated 2-3 times each night, exacerbated by the Diamox and our habit of drinking 2-4 liters of water each day in addition to tea and coffee. We are certainly spoiled by the conveniences at home! Namche, Tuesday 7/5

We have made it to Namche from Deboche, a trip that took us about 6 hours, including lunch and
rest stops. There were several long steep uphill sections, but overall the effect was a descent.
My altimeter reads 10,800 ft. here at Namche.
We worked out tips for Thubten and the staff. We had to manage the tipping using both U.S. and
Nepalese currencies, which was a bit challenging. Everyone cooperated and chipped in when
needed to bring the amounts up to what we set as the goal for each group (leader, sirdar,
assistant guides, kitchen staff, porters, yak herders).
Tonight we are again sleeping in Thubten’s house in Namche, which is for all of us a welcome
change from tent-camping. We leave for Lukla early tomorrow morning, and will stay in a lodge
there before flying to Kathmandu – if the weather gives us a clear window to fly out.
We all hope for a break in the clouds so we can get out of the mountains in time for our return
flights to the USA and elsewhere. Todd is going on to Malaysia, and Bobbi is continuing her trip
to China.
Lukla, Wednesday 7/6

We left Namche around 7:00 a.m. and trekked to Phakding for lunch. It took us about 3 hours to
reach the lunch spot. Directly after leaving Namche, the trail dives down to the Dudh Kosi, where
we crossed the suspension bridge and began the long series of ups and downs to Phakding.
After lunch the rain began, soaking us the entire way to Lukla. The raingear proved to warm to
wear in the 100% humidity, so I removed it and let the rain drench me. I soon became as wet as I
have ever been while wearing clothing.
Finally we reached the lodge in Lukla and quickly built a fire in the Common Room to warm up
and dry our clothing. We later had a great dinner, soft drinks (what a luxury), wine, and beer.
Then we presented the staff envelopes containing their tips. We also pooled some of our clothing
and gear, which was distributed to each member of the staff through a card-drawing devised by Thubten. Afterwards, music played from a portable player and everyone danced around the wood-burning stove – a fun time and a good celebration. Because the Nepalese army controls Lukla and its airstrip, a curfew is imposed for 8:00 p.m. So we were happy to turn in and rest after a long, eventful, and extremely wet day. We later found out that the Sherpas retired to their quarters with beer and had a celebration of their own – a much deserved celebration. Kathmandu, Thursday 7/7

An early cup of tea and a light breakfast preceded our hike up to the airport at Lukla. Soon, a
siren sounded to signal that aircraft were cleared to takeoff from Kathmandu bound for Lukla.
Within half an hour or so, our plane arrived and we loaded up for the famous downhill takeoff from
Lukla’s tilted runway.
I watched out the window as we rose above the tarmac moments before the airstrip ended in a
sheer drop of thousands of feet to the valley below. The flight to Kathmandu was smooth and
uneventful. Soon enough we had landed, loaded our bags, and were reintroduced to
Kathmandu’s traffic in the shuttle bus.
The best part of the day was without doubt the hot shower at the hotel. We also roamed about
Thamel, shopping and having lunch at Rum Doodle. It was there that I saw the signatures of
Pete Athans, David Breashears, Ed Viesturs, Ang Dorje, and other Everest climbers. It was such
a thrill to see their writing on the signature boards on the restaurant walls.
Kathmandu, Friday 7/8

This was a free day for us in Kathmandu. We took our shuttle van to the Tibetan Refugee Center
and shopped for carpets and other souvenirs. We had lunch at Rum Doodle again, this time
going for pizza.
Thubten brought his wife and children to dinner with our group. In the evening everyone packed
up and prepared for Saturday’s flight to Bangkok (Bobbi was headed for China). After Bangkok,
we will be headed our separate ways.
Leaving Nepal, Saturday 7/9

We have checked our luggage through to Los Angeles, obtained our boarding passes, cleared
the security checkpoints, and are now sitting in the boarding area for Thai Airways in Tribhuvan
International Airport. Our trip home – a long one – has begun!
Thubten visited the hotel this morning with his family, and we were able to thank him again for all
he did for us on the trek. He brought us Katas and wished us a safe trip home. Ken, Derek, and I
will stay overnight in Bangkok tonight.
…In the afternoon, now. We are flying aboard a 777-200. Worth mentioning is one flight
attendant who has (so far) spilled trays of beverages on 2 passengers – one of them being me.
But I was relatively lucky, as the other victim (across the aisle and one row in front of me) got a full glass of red wine directly in the middle of his chest. We are now quite wary of this young woman when she comes our way. Final Thoughts

Seeing the Himalaya for the first time is truly a memorable experience. After a few days away
from civilization, the remoteness of the surroundings began to seem natural. I certainly didn’t
miss the traffic congestion and noise pol ution common to the western world. But I did miss some
of the conveniences we take for granted here – like safe water, indoor plumbing, and centralized
climate control.
The thing I enjoyed the most was learning about the Nepalese people, and seeing the conditions
in which they live and work. The hike the children of rural areas take each day to their schools is
one that leaves me shaking my head in wonder. The jobs people do just to survive are
backbreaking. I’m committed to helping the people of this region have better lives. That
recognition was the best thing about the trip for me. Everyone should see these mountains and
the people that call them home.

Source: http://www.tonyrpierce.com/journals/Nepal_Journal.pdf

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