Thursday, April 26, 2018

EBC - The Climb

It would be impossible to write about this trek from my day to day notes. There was quite a bit of daily repetition during the climb that went something like this.

Wake up call 6:00 am.
30 second pause knowing you will instantly be freezing cold the second you lift the bed covers.
A new Olympic sports called "getting dressed before hypothermia sets in" is created.
Pack you bag and run downstairs for hot coffee and breakfast
Hit the trail for 7:00 and trek 5 to 7 hours uphill and down
Stop for lemon tea after the first 90 minutes. Stop for lunch half way and random stops to layer on or layer off.
Be constantly in awe of your surroundings that included mountains, trails, wildlife, porters, yaks, other trekkers, helicopters, rivers, bridges and each other while trying to breath and find your trail rhythms.
Reach the tea house around 4:30, drink tea and order dinner
Eat dinner at 6:30, nightly brief at 7;00, cards until 8:00 then nighty night.

With the routine in mind we left Phaktang (2660 m) and it took 6 days of hard trekking plus 2 acclimatization days. These were actual rest days but on both occasions we needed to hike up for a few hours and then return to our Tea House. It is all a part of the process. Each day started with a 6:00 am wake up and each morning got colder than the previous one. These Tea Houses were as basic as they come. Two hard beds for each small room and each was afforded a huge warm comforter. Each of us had a sleeping bag so falling asleep was no problem. As there was no heat, waking up and jumping out of bed became a sport of Olympic proportions.

The skill does not lie in bundling up for bed. The idea is to sleep in just your short and tshirt and put all your clothes in the bed with you to keep them warm. When you wake up you need to flop off the covers and dress as quickly as possible then run down to the common room for breakfast and a hot coffee that was available pretty quickly. After a good breakfast of oatmeal or eggs and toast we packed our bags and were hiking by 7:00. This was the morning routine and it never faltered.

Evening meal was at 6:30. Depending on the hike or the day you would get to camp around 4. You found your room, dropped your bag, pre-ordered dinner while drinking hot lemon tea and talked about the day. Dinner then a debrief for the next day from Shankar was followed by a bit of card playing or chess or general chat but that usually did not last very long. The first few nights 9:00 was good night, then it became 8:30, then 8:00 and yes on the last night before Gorashep I led off by going to bed at 7:30 and Caitlyn was not far behind. Everyone teased me but 5 minutes later I heard the pitter patter of little feet climbing the stairs and the tell tale squeak of each door as my trekking pals went to sleep.

The team was a great group. They were Caitlyn and Myself, Kim, Anna (Canada) , Sarah (Wales), Sheila (Ireland), Marie, Jojo, Dan, Katy and Emma (England), Domenic (Swiss), Brianna (New Zealand), Elvar (Iceland) and Joe (USA). Most had travel histories and for a few this was their first real trek.

Seeing the Hillary suspension bridge with the old bridge underneath stopped everyone in their tracks. This was the first real "monument" that everyone recognized on the trail. Crossing the huge swaying suspension bridge covered in prayer flags was the moment we realized the trek was real.

We trekked through small villages and stayed at towns that are famous along this trek. Namche Bazaar, Tengboche, Dingboche, Lobuche and finally Gorashep (5180 m), the gateway to the Base Camp Summit.

In Tengboche we visited the famous Monastery rebuild by Edmond Hillary after it was destroyed by a fire in 1989. It was a surreal experience to say the least. One monk was inside chanting while looking around at all of us exhausted trekkers. It was totally a show for us hoping to inspire donations. Such an odd experience.

Waking in Tengboche could not be rivaled. We were surrounded by clear blue skies and the soaring peaks of the Himalayas. The air was crisp and clean and the morning energized everyone despite the cold.

In Dingboche there was a fantastic cafe with proper coffee. As this was one of our acclimatization days we took advantage of it on the second day. There we were at 4350 metres in a hard scrabble town dating back centuries, sipping hot cappuccinos while watching the movie Everest.

The altitude effected everyone. Most of us were just short of breath and walked slowly. However if you bent over to tie your boots and brought your head up quickly you would get a great "70s head spin" for those who can relate to the times. Anna's hands started swelling and the altitude really affected her, Emma had a stomach virus that she brought along from India, Brianna had the Khumba cough that started from about day 3. The poor kid coughed day and night continuously and never once complained. Katy could not make the entire trek due to altitude. She and Dan met us back down at a Tea House on the return. Dan also suffered the first few days with a stomach virus and Sarah had issues with the sun. Caitlyn had an ongoing cold but the winner was Elvar. We were playing cards one night and he shifted the wrong way dislocating his shoulder. Yes, you read that right. He had to walk to Nemche with Shankar during the only raining night on the trail to get to a medical clinic. Through it all there was a bit of normal complaining but nobody was going to be denied the summit. What a crew we were!

In Dughla we came across the memorials to fallen Everest Trekkers. Included were Scott Fisher and Rob Hall from the ill fated 1996 expedition. This was brought to our attention by the book Into Thin Air by John Krakauer. It was humbling to wander the memorial to trekkers who had died and are still on Everest. Another book written by Anatoli Bourakeev, The Climb, was his personal account of the 1996 tragedy. His account contradicts quite a bit of Krakauers book who slammed Bourakeev. Sadly Bourakeev died in an avalanche while climbing Annapurna just before his book tour was to begin. I found a memorial to him and other Kazaks who had died on Everest. He does not get the recognition outside of climbing circles but he was a mountaineering rock star.

Food was never an issue. There was a general menu at each tea house. Rice and noodle dishes, pastas, potatoes and lots of it. The go to meal was Dhal Bat which consisted of rice, potatoes, some type of greens and a tomato chutney along with a bowl of garlic soup. This was good the first few times because it was unlimited but after a while looking at it make me sick. It was the go to meal for all porters and guides. Plates were piled high and Caitlyn and I finally started sharing meals and we were both stuffed. Breakfast was eggs, toast, porridge with fruit or pancakes. I survived on black coffee and whatever Caitlyn could not finish. Go to snacks were the usual. Pringles, Mars, Snickers, Oreos, or gummies. At one time Joe brought out the American Beef was madness.

Each day if you did not drink at the very least 4 litres of water you could find yourself becoming dehydrated. The end game was always "clear pee" no matter how often you had to go to the washroom. Caitlyn was the "pee on the trail" gold medal winner. Water was available at all stops along the trail thanks to the hard working yaks. I chose to use chlorine pills with tap water and it was fine. Anna had a UV light that she swirled in the tap water for 2 minutes and it killed the bacteria. There was the option to have your water boiled for a price and a few people did that mostly to take to bed to keep warm, but it was drinkable in the morning. You could forgo any of these options and drink the water directly as the locals do. Doing so would be taking your life for granted and there was a 95% chance you would need to be evacuated by helicopter. Nepal has some of the highest water bacteria issues in the world, even on the trail and unlike the locals our bodies are not prepared for it.

Eight days climbing and acclimatizing took its toll without any of us realizing. The physical aspect was manageable. Each of use climbed according to our abilities. Looking back, we did not even realize how mentally exhausting this was becoming. We rose and trekked all day constantly being challenged by the weather, the terrain and the surroundings. There were emotional breakdowns along the trail but they were short lasting and the person who was struggling regrouped and kept going.

My personal relief came in the form of solitude. The crew trekked in two distinct groups. I was with the front group, lead by Lopsang, who were a bit quicker on the trail. If I need some space I would fall back knowing the other group, a bit slower, were about 200 metres behind. I could hike by myself for any length of time just taking it all in and loving it, even during the most difficult stretches. Most of us fell into this pattern from time to time. Other times you could walk with a partner for an hour and nobody had to say anything, both of you knowing exactly what the other was thinking. Immediate trail bonding.

All the hard work paid off when we arrived at Gorashep. The last leg to the Base Camp Summit. It was there that the real raw emotions of this trek showed themselves in all their unabashed glory.

** I want to thank both Joe and Marie for some of the pictures used in this post.**

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