Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nepal and the Everest Base Camp trek

After our tumultuous time in India, we had a fabulous 17 days in Nepal. We spent four days in Kathmandu before our fantastic Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek began. Kathmandu is bustling and crowded, but certainly no worse than anything we encountered in India. When we first arrived, our airport taxi dropped us at a different hotel than what we booked. After some confused conversation and confirming phone calls we determined we were not being scammed and the new hotel was taking overflow from the hotel we booked.

Our hotel was on the edge of the main touristy area of Kathmandu called Thamel. The Thamel area was rammed with travel agencies, trekking companies, little shops, and restaurants. We spent our days shopping, scheduling our flights, and getting things done on the internet. Nicole really enjoyed the cheap fashions available for purchase. We visited some travel agents to plan a trip to Tibet after our BC trek. After some research, we found that it was actually quite expensive and somewhat dangerous to take the overland tour to Lhasa. The flight back to Kathmandu was also pricey. We assumed that after 2 weeks on the EBC trek, we wouldn't need any more Himalayas anyway. As it turns out, we made the right decision. Riots began the day we would have set out on the Tibet trip and are still ongoing. From what we understand, the 'Friendship Highway' between Nepal and Tibet is temporarily closed and odds are we would have lost lots of money had we pre-paid for the overland trip. On another note, FREE TIBET! We encourage all our friends and family to learn about the controversies in Tibet. Having been to China and after meeting different people in Nepal (guides, sherpas, villagers, tea house owners and porters), many being Tibetans, our hearts ache for these people. The worst of it is that the rest of China probably has no idea the uprising is occurring. We're very curious to see how the rest of the world reacts and what else unfolds as the 2008 Olympics approach.

Anyway, back to our travels, the main attraction in Kathmandu is its Durbar Square. It is a large area with temples, shrines, and the old royal palace. Lots of history, lots of old architecture, and lots of locals watching the tourists go by. We visited Durbar Square on our last full day in Kathmandu. We also moved to the hotel that was organized for the trek, the Nirvana Garden Hotel. Our hike was purchased through G.A.P. Adventures and the local tour operator turned out to be Ama Dablam Adventures. We met with our tour leader, Subash, and the rest of our trekking group in the late afternoon for a briefing and then enjoyed dinner out with many of them. We learned that evening that we would have to pack our things into a provided duffle bag. Catch was, they had to weigh less than 10kg each, eek!

The next morning at 5am was a little chaotic as we both had over 15kg in our bags. Nicole's duffle bag ripped on the way down the stairs so we decided to pack her stuff in her normal large backpack. After removing many things from our bags, we finally ended up with close enough to 10kg each and we checked the remainder of our stuff with the hotel. We were driven to the domestic airport and waited until about 8am for our short half-hour Yeti Airlines flight to Lukla. They used the same Twin Otter airplanes as we had in the Maldives, just without the floats. The Lukla Airport is incredible to land at. You head towards a cliff and then land on a short runway that is inclined upwards. It's quite amazing and slightly terrifying at the same time.
We ate lunch in Lukla and finally had a chance to really chat with everyone in the group. We were 6 Canadians, 4 Aussies, 2 Finns, and a Mexican. The 6 Canadians were from across Canada, representing Vancouver, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax. Very cool. It turns out that we really had a good group with great dynamics. We all got along quite well and enjoyed many laughs throughout the entire 12 day trek.
Thomas, Saija, Tiffany, Jeremy, Stephane, Paul, Nicole, Jason, Darrell, Giselle, Dannielle
Kevin, Rebecca, Subash

Our trek leader's name was Subash. Second in command was Jetha. Subash and Jetha brought up the rear of the group as we trekked while Raju, our Sherpa, lead us keeping at a reasonable pace. There were also four porters who carried our duffle bags 3 or 4 at a time (30-40kg). Our bags were roped together and carried on their backs with a strap around their forehead instead of their shoulders. Quite interesting. It's amazing how much they can carry.

Every evening of the trek, we stayed in a tea house where we were split into double rooms. There was always a central dining area where we would all sit around and chat. A fire of burning yak dung was normally put on after 4:30pm, we would order dinner at around 5pm, and we would all eventually get our food between 6:30 and 7pm. There were many soup, rice, noodle, and potato dishes. A few places even had small steamed pizzas. Sherpa Stew was a favourite among many to warm us up at the end of the day. Lunch along the way was always in a tea house as well.We really lucked out with the weather on the trip. We had a few showers on the first couple of days of the trek, but by the third day (once over 3440m), every morning was cloudless and beautiful. We were also able to see the peak of Everest nearly every day. Very cool.

As far as aesthetics are concerned though, Everest isn't anywhere near the most impressive mountain in the region. Ama Dablam was probably the most prominent and beautiful mountain along the route. But there were many very impressive peaks to keep us ooing and awing throughout the trek.The timing of the trek turned out to be quite good. Early March is the tail end of shoulder season and therefore, there really weren't that many other trekkers on the trail. We had to wait for the odd yak train to go by, but all in all, there were very few delays. Along with that though, EBC was quite baron and unexciting. We joined maybe 40 other trekkers in standing on the rubble of rocks of the Khumbu Glacier moraine. There would be no tents or climbers there until April at the earliest. Everest is not visible from EBC but it was still cool to look up at the glacier where the climbers begin their ascent.
Not only did we go to EBC, but we also climbed to the summit of Kala Patthar, a small peak to the west of EBC. It was a 2-hour hike up 400m and we left at 5am to catch the sunrise over Everest. It was cold and dark when we left and Nicole decided she'd rather sleep in. But Jason enjoyed the hike up and the view from the top. The first half hour was in darkness and we lit the trail with our headlamps. It was an arduous climb in the thin air and there ended up being a small cloud surrounding the very peak of Everest. :( Nonetheless, Jason really enjoyed the rocky summit, the view over EBC and the surrounding panorama of mountains. The summit is officially 5545m but Kevin's GPS read more like 5630m. Over 18000 feet! Quite an accomplishment.

Surprisingly enough, our entire group made it all the way to EBC. Over half of us ended up taking Dymox for a couple of days to relieve the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness, but no one needed to stop early or head back down. Subash told us that we were only the third group that he had lead that had a 100% success rate. Jason had a bad headache on a couple of the nights, but nothing that a couple of Advil couldn't fix by morning. Nicole was one of the only people that had no symptoms whatsoever for the whole trek! Subash was very impressed with her (as was Jason). :) The trek was a fantastic experience and has certainly made us excited to come back one day to do the supposedly more impressive Annapourna circuit in central Nepal.

Upon returning to Kathmandu, we stayed one last night at the Nirvana Garden Hotel and prepared to fly back to Delhi the following afternoon. Before departing our large group of 14 enjoyed dinner at the Rum Doodle 40,000 1/2 ft Restaurant. We created a group 'footprint' that will forever hang from the ceiling. Hopefully one day we'll return to find our names!
We had decided previously that despite the fact that we had seen very little of Delhi, we were done with India. We stayed in the airport overnight in a waiting lounge and caught a flight to London the following morning. The Delhi Airport is under construction and dreadful. As usual, it is overstaffed with no one taking responsibility for anything. The waiting lounge was quite uncomfortable so we were happy to get out of there as soon as possible. But we couldn't enter the airport until 3 hours before our flight. Once in, we had to stand in line for ages to get our big bags through the British Airways security check. Then we stood in line for a while to check in. Then we stood in line for ages for immigration. Finally, once we were at the gate, we had to wait for our flight which was delayed an hour. Jason picked up a sinus cold on the last couple of days of the trek, so he really wasn't a happy camper. We managed to get some sleep on the 9.5 hour flight to London and are now happy to be back in the Western world at last.
P.S. England blog coming shortly...

Kathmandu Pics | Everest Base Camp Trek Pics