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Everest Base Camp [Nov. 28th, 2009|06:38 pm]
Saturday November 28th, Day 13
(Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp, and back down to Lobuje)

Overnight in Gorak Shep, we experienced the coldest temps of the trek (10 degrees). It was so cold that our pack animals curled up and slept between our tents. There was a cozy, intimate feel to this night as we were down to a very small group and slept all within earshot of each other.

It was still cold when we set out for Everest Base Camp in the morning. The mountains rose so high on either side of us that the sun was late in rising. As we ascended the narrow canyon towards base camp in the dim light of the early morning, it was easy to feel like we were in a narrow tunnel rather than surrounded by majestic peaks. As the sun emerged and warmed us all, though, our surroundings brightened and we were treated to views of glacial lakes and the beginnings of the pyramids of snow that make up the Khumbu Icefall.

It was only a 700ft climb, but a fairly long distance to Base Camp, so it took us several hours. Once we arrived alongside Mount Everest, we traversed over some hilly, icy terrain spotted with mountain lakes and emerged at a large outcropping of small rocks that looked a lot like a river bed.

During the climbing season (March-May), Everest Base Camp morphs into a small tent city. In the off-season, though, the only structure is a pile of stones (or “chorten”) marked with prayer flags, katas and a crude sign that reads “Everest Base Camp”. Other than the sound of prayer flags blowing in the wind, the only noise you hear is the hissing sound of snow melting on the Icefall and the resulting grunt and groan of seracs shifting as the ice melts.

Again the mood was ebuilliant as we snapped photos and enjoyed the beautiful, sunny skies at Everest Base Camp. My friend Andrea got out her kite again and was able to catch some nice wind. I did several 360 degree turns, just taking in the views all around me…looking up the Khumbu Icefall, looking over at the rocky landscape that celebrated mountaineers call home for months at a time, looking back up at Kala Patar and snowy peaks like Pumori that linger above it, looking back down the valley towards Gorak Shep and ultimately the camps we’d used as waypoints on this magnificent journey.

I looked around at the men and women who had been such amazing company along this journey. I remain in awe of the generosity of spirit of the Sherpas who had supported us the entire way. Some were young and hoped one day to accompany an expedition higher up on Mt Everest; some had already proven themselves in that way but avoid the “Death Zone” because they now have young families. All were incredibly kind, thoughtful and supportive.

It was also incredibly inspiring to look around at this wonderful group of strong, healthy women, who had each overcome physical, mental and emotional obstacles to get to Everest Base Camp. My own journey was the culmination of a long break from the work world, which I’d decided to take when I realized that being away from work for cancer treatment was less stressful than being at work. I spent some of this time at Everest Base Camp reflecting on how much my perspective had changed since taking this leave.

For the first time in my life, I’d allowed myself to slow down, to unplug, to stand still in one place. I spent the entire summer barefoot, in flip flops or hiking boots, swimming in mountain lakes, hiking with my dog and sleeping as long as my body wanted to every night. I did a whole lot of nothing, and it felt great.

I knew I’d have to make a decision about whether to go back to work in September, but I didn’t think about it much. I knew I was better off taking a break from hard decisions and focusing on regaining my strength and well-being after a physically and mentally arduous year.

As if to prove that the universe actually does provide, shortly before I was meant to go back to that awful work environment that was more stressful than cancer, an old friend in the market called to see if I would be interested in interviewing for a spot in his firm’s San Francisco office.

And so the stars aligned for me, as my summer off culminated in a new job that required me to take 60 days paid leave as part of a non-compete agreement with my old firm.

After 12 weeks of doing nothing, there was nothing more appealing to me than 3 weeks in the Himalayas with Cathy Ann Taylor. I did wonder if I would be pre-occupied with the thought of going back to work while I was on the trek, but as it turned out, I was just unplugged enough to be able to maintain a sense of calm and distance the entire trip.

While the high elevation point of the trip may have been our previous day’s summit of Kala Patar, for me the high point of the trip was this time, seated quietly on a rock at Everest Base Camp, listening to the laughter of my friends, the hiss of the snow melting, the shifting of the seracs, and contemplating the kismet that had befallen me since I decided to step off the treadmill earlier that summer; how by slowing down my life, I was able to change its direction; how by catching my breath, I was able to fill my lungs and soar higher. What a blessed ending to a period of health and well-being in my life.

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To the summit of Kala Patar [Nov. 27th, 2009|06:29 pm]
Summit Day
Friday November 27th, Day 12
(Lobuje to Gorak Shep via Kala Patar)

There really weren’t too many moments on our trek to Everest Base Camp where we experienced extreme cold. I’ve written about some moments in tea houses along the trail where the sun had set and the cold set in, but we were able to keep ourselves warm by playing cards, doing yoga, dancing, eating, etc, and it was never long before we went back to our tents with our hot water bottles and slipped into our sleeping bags.

As we awoke in Lobuje, just above 16,000 ft, we experienced our first morning of inclement weather. In addition to chilly temperatures (it got down as low as 11 degrees overnight), a blustery wind was making its way down the valley we would be climbing through to reach the summit of Kala Patar, the high-elevation point of our trip at 18,300ft.

As I mentioned, other than our camp staff and a young guide from Turkey who was interning with Cat, we were an all-women trek at this point. As we ducked our heads against the wind and headed up towards Gorak Shep, our campsite for that evening, altitude and illness began to take its toll on some of our group. One woman simply felt her strength lag, another got hit with the chest cold that had been plaguing her tentmate the entire trip. I was still regaining strength after my stomach flu, as was another woman who’d suffered the same illness as me.

We were blessed with a fantastic team of Sherpas, all of whom offered to carry our packs for us as we fought the wind, illness and the impact of altitude. It was beautiful to see how each of us reacted in this situation. For two of the women, it was imperative for them that they make it to the summit fully under their own power, so rather than relinquish their packs, they took it slow and hiked behind the rest of the group with a Sherpa by their side.

I had a very different reaction. I was just feeling better after a 48 hour struggle with illness, and keenly aware of the need to use my energy wisely as we climbed higher. While my appetite had returned, I still wasn’t at the point where I could eat everything that was put in front of me, which is what you need to be doing when trekking at high altitudes.

Also, as a single woman living by myself, I just don’t get that many offers to lighten my load. When I said this jokingly to the other women, I was astounded at their sympathetic reaction. I don’t like to complain about my life, because really I am very blessed with supportive friends and family, but the truth is that I carry a lot on my own shoulders. From the mundane (lugging 30 lbs of dog food up the stairs) to the complex (I have no one to fall back on if I lose my job, income, health insurance, etc), a lot falls on me and me alone. For many people, their life goals relate to taking on new challenges and proving their competencies; for me, my next level is about learning how let go, do less, and accept help.

So though it felt like a slog up to Gorak Shep, I was in good spirits, feeling better physically while appreciating that I had the kindness of our team of Sherpas to lighten my load.

We arrived in Gorak Shep a little disheveled from all the wind, but excited to see Kala Patar rising above us. Adrenaline was kicking in at this point, and we started our climb up Kala Patar enthusiastic and energized.

In my memory, I felt great the entire way up the mountain. We took fairly regular breaks, and the views of Everest right across the way were ASTOUNDING. However, when I got home and played a video filmed from a spot about 2/3 up the mountain, I realized just how hard I was huffing and puffing as I took a break to shoot the video (I sound like Darth Vader).

The views only got more incredible as we neared the summit. From 18,300 feet, we had a clear view of the entire Khumbu Icefall (the first 2000 ft of an Everest ascent and one of the most deadly zones on the mountain), as well as the route up the Lhotse face towards the South Col, the Hillary Step and the Summit. Apparently, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay plotted out their route from this very spot on Kala Patar as they prepared for the first-ever ascent of Mt Everest way back in 1953.

By the time we reached the summit, the wind had died down and we enjoyed clear sunny skies and warm temps while celebrating the high point of our trip. One of my most memorable photos from the trip is below: the summit of Mt Everest, as seen from the top of Kala Patar, framed by prayer flags. I also have a few fun shots of Cat and myself for some of our BCF sponsors, including Luna and Isis.

Only one of our teammates hadn’t continued with us up to the summit of Kala Patar. The woman with the chest cold, who was courageously carrying her own pack the entire day, had decided to cut her climb short and rest about halfway up the mountain. As we started to make our way down the mountain, we heard that she was making her way up, and we all erupted in cheers. She made it to the summit that day, and it was so poignant to see someone push through that kind of fatigue and discomfort.

We celebrated together about halfway back down the mountain with Pringles, Snickers and hot lemonade. By the time we made it back to camp, we were all pretty exhausted. I spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing in my tent, aware that though we’d reached our highest point of the trek already, we still had a long trek ahead of us tomorrow to Everest Base Camp. Dinner that night was somewhat celebratory, but we were all tired and aware of what lay ahead the next day. Though I was feeling mostly better, we still had two climbers among us who were struggling with fatigue and illness.

On nights like these, when there was a bit of a pall hanging over the tent due to illness or struggles of our fellow climbers, there was one person who would consistently lift our spirits. Her name was Renate and I won’t mention her age because she would kill me, but let’s just say if I look that amazing when I am her age, I will be psyched.

In addition to being incredibly fit, she was also beautifully dressed, even at a stage in the trek when most of our clothes could have gotten up and walked off on their own. She sported a purple fur hat on cold nights, and shared with us that rather than sleeping in long underwear, she preferred a baby doll nightgown. Even more impressive than her level of fitness and sense of style were her enthusiasm and sense of humor, which never once dampened. She would make us all laugh every night by excusing herself from dinner to do some “housekeeping” in her tent.

She never once faltered on the trail, pushing quietly through hard sections of the trek that made others moan and groan. She carried photos and letters from her young grandchildren to share with children we met along the way, and they delighted in learning about their American counterparts. The grand finale of our time with her was our last night on the trail, when she agreed to model the baby doll nightgown. I won’t post photos because, again, she would kill me, but lets just say she looked smoking hot in that spaghetti strap nightgown, with a mug of beer held aloft from a buff arm and her hiking boots poking out below the hemline of the nightgown.

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Thanksgiving Day [Nov. 26th, 2009|02:43 pm]
Thanksgiving Day
November 26th, Day 11

As we made our way up to new heights, I was feeling thankful for the return of good health. The sweet snacks provided by my teammates fueled the climb up from Dingboche to Lobuje, the site of our next camp.

About halfway into the day's trek, we came upon a stunning gathering of stone memorials to those who have lost their lives on Mt Everest. While the bodies of most of the deceased remain high on the mountain, this area serves as a "graveyard" of sorts for climbers and Sherpas alike. Some monuments are large, imposing, and adorned with engraved plaques. Others are large but simple, like Scott Fischer's (pictured below), who died on Mt Everest in 1996 and was a central figure in John Krakaur's Into Thin Air. More poignant still are the rows of smaller, simple monuments to the Sherpa's who were all killed on the same day in the 1970s when a Japanese man skied down Mt Everest and caused an avalanche that killed many of the Sherpas supporting him. He lived to make a movie about it, but the death of his Sherpas was omitted in the movie.

We spent awhile walking amongst the memorials, reflecting on the inherent dangers of high altitude climbing and the drama that unfolds regularly along the route we were walking. We'd just left behind five very ill teammates, and the risks of complications as we moved higher loomed over all of us.

I was turning a corner, though, and with my appetite coming back, I opened up a chocolate bar. Even Cat's teasing me about the last chocolate I ingested ending up on the trail did not dampen my enthusiasm for pure milk chocolate as we basked in the warm sun under a clear blue sky.

At this point, it became very clear that we were hiking in the valley of the Khumbu Glacier. Whereas in Tengboche, we were surrounded by large mountains in the distance, we still had the feeling of being perched high above everything in the immediately surrounding Khumbu Valley. As we approached Lobuje, the mountains narrowed in on either side of us. The once distant face of Nhupste, characterized by spider-web like cracks, now rose directly above us.

Our camps were becoming more and more remote the further we progressed. Our camp in Lobuje was tucked onto a hillside above a very small village. We settled in for the evening and watched the mountains above us turn a dusty shade of pink in the sunset.

As we settled in for dinner that night, we looked at our watches and thought about what our family members back home were doing at the moment. About 12 hours behind us, their day was beginning as ours was drawing to a close. I thought of my parents and my sister Lizzie's family awaking together at our family house on the Jersey Shore, and of my sister Emily's family celebrating in Vermont. I even thought of my little Shasta at my friend Marti's house, with her good pal (and soon to be little brother) Chuck.

We would eat an elaborate Thanksgiving meal a few days later once we had come down from Everest Base Camp and reunited with our teammates. On this night in Lobuje, I celebrated my returning appetite with a big helping of white rice and soy sauce, along with delicious spring rolls prepared by our beloved cook Mek. I watched longingly the others devoured a delicious-looking spiced custard. I was full from dinner, and did not want to tempt fate, so I abstained. This might be my one regret of the trip, since everyone is still raving about how good that dessert was.

The next morning, I bounced into the breakfast tent singing Lionel Richie's "All Night Long", since that was how I slept...all...night...long. I was completely recovered.

In my next entry...Summit Day!

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Monks chanting, moving higher, headstand at 14,500 and why my journaling dropped off [Nov. 24th, 2009|07:16 am]
Author's note: Don't read this if you are in any way disturbed by gastrointestinal issues. Also, don't go to altitude if that's a problem for you.

November 24th, Day 9

I first read about Tengboche in Jon Krakaur's book, Into Thin Air. Because it is the largest ghompa, or monastery, in the Everest region, and because it is directly on the road to Base Camp, many climbers stop here to receive the blessing of the Rinpoche. The views are stunning as is the structure itself, reconstructed twice since its inception after an earthquake in 1934 and a fire that leveled it in 1989.

Monks were largely absent from the monastery when we visited, though. They had all descended to Pangboche Monastery, a 500 year old monastery about an hours walk away, to perform an annual puja in which they chant 101 sutras.

We had the honor of visiting Pangboche as we made our way out of Tengboche in the morning. We sat for some time with the monks while they chanted. As spiritual as the chanting was, particularly in a space so steeped in history and tradition, what was more touching was the casual warmth the monks showed towards each other. In the midst of their chanting, they periodically laughed and jostled each other.

I have a video that captures the beauty of the moment, and will post it here in the next couple of days (just as soon as I figure out how...)

Also, en route from Tengboche to Pangboche, we saw some beautiful wildlife, including musk deer and Himalayan Thar, pictured below.

In the afternoon, we had a steep climb ahead of us up to 14,500 feet. I felt good throughout the strenuous climb. As we crested on last large hill before our camp, I stayed close behind the Sherpa who was leading us and did my best to follow precisely in his footsteps. Despite the fact that he was much fitter than me and completely acclimatized, he was taking much smaller steps than I normally would have. Shortening my stride and moving at his pace helped me tackle the hill without feeling the impact of a 2,000 ft elevation gain too severely.

We finally crested the hill after a steep climb and came upon a gorgeous, sun-drenched meadow, complete with a picturesque stone hut used by yak herders in the summer. We arrived early enough that we were able to enjoy more than an hour of sunlight. I was feeling energetic and did a few yoga poses - including headstand - with the mountains in the background. Andrea got out the kite she had brought along and we all took photos of the gorgeous views.

Every afternoon on the trek, we enjoyed "afternoon tea" which consisted of Pringles, popcorn, cookies, hot tea, and hot cocoa. I'd arrived at Labarma famished and had eaten a MoJo bar, but by the time tea rolled around, my stomach was feeling just a tiny bit uneasy, enough so that I didn't dive into the snacks around the table.

What happened next came about VERY quickly. One minute we were all smiling, taking photos, doing headstands in the sunshine. The next minute, one of my teammates was dashing out of the dining tent and vomiting repeatedly. We all felt sorry for him, and his partner shook her head and wondered how she was going to share a tent with him that night.

I chose to leave the dining tent at that moment, since my stomach was already a little uneasy and what I had just seen happen to one of my teammates made me worry about what lay in store for me.

Sure enough, as I lay in my tent trying to rest, I sat straight up and made use of the gallon sized Ziploc bag I'd extracted from my pack just in case. Cat must have heard me because she came by my tent and checked on me. I told her I would promise to drink a liter of water and eat a Luna Bar if I could please be excused from dinner. I knew how serious it was at altitude, when you're burning up to 5,000 calories a day, to not only lose the contents of one's stomach, but also miss another meal.

My stomach had settled within another couple of hours, but I lay awake all night listening my teammates get sick. All-in-all that night we were 5 people hit with the stomach bug; one of our other teammates had stayed behind at Tengboche because she too had fallen ill.

The next morning I did my best to steer clear of the healthy people, and opted to stay in camp with the other four who weren't feeling well while everyone else climbed to Ama Dablam base camp at 15,700.

Our next destination was Dingboche, which put us back on the trail to Everest Base Camp. My stomach still felt unsettled throughout most of the day, but I ate as blandly as I could and drank water continuously. We set up camp in Dingboche outside of a tea house owned by our sirdar Mingma's family, and were greeted warmly by his mother and father when we arrived.

I knew I was still at a caloric deficit from being sick the night before, so I bought a Snickers and a Coke upon arrival and focused on getting those down before settling in for the evening. I looked longingly at the pizza our cook Mek had made...I could only stomach a couple of bites. Luckily he passed around vegetarian sushi as well. The rice felt nice and easy on my stomach and the salt in the soy sauce settled my stomach.

Cat and Andrea were casting sideways glances at me throughout dinner because yes, I was farting. While a toot here or there over the course of an evening is not unusual for me, they don't normally attract the attention of my dining companions...and they don't normally persist over a period of several hours. So I should have been concerned about what lay ahead.

I did get some sleep that night between trips to the commode. By breakfast, I was starting to regain my appetite but couldn't go 10 minutes without having to visit the loo. Cat gave me an Ammodium, which I chased down with as many cupfuls of hot cocoa as I could stand, since food wasn't really working for me.

We learned over breakfast that we were leaving behind 5 of our teammates: the woman who'd been ill since Tengboche, her traveling partner who had just the night before fallen ill, and 3 of the 4 others who shared my illness in Labarma.

It just so happened that all of the three male clients on our trek had fallen ill, and from here on up to Base Camp, we would be an all women trek. We didn't focus much on this fact at the time, since two of us were still feeling very ill and we were all nervous about what lay ahead.

As we headed out on the trail, I didn't have any doubt in my mind that I would be okay, but I was prepared for Cat to make a judgment call at any time as to whether or not I should be continuing to climb to higher altitudes. About 10 minutes after we left Dingboche, she had her chance. The three cups of hot chocolate I'd pounded at breakfast ended up on the trail beside me. Cat came over to me while I was still crouched beside the trail, taking cautious sips of water. I don't remember exactly what she said, but it was something along the lines of, "Feeling better? Ready to go?"

We talked a lot about that moment later in the trip, when I asked Cat what made her believe I could continue to go higher despite the fact that I couldn't keep food (or apparently hot chocolate) in my system. She told me two things: one, she'd been on Mt Shasta with me and knew I was physically and mentally tough, and two, she saw how committed I was to eating Snickers Bars and drinking Coke, and knew that I'd get better because I was keeping up my caloric intake.

And sure enough, I felt better as soon as we got back on the trail. My stomach felt cleansed of whatever had ailed it, and I was regaining a limited appetite. While I normally crave chocolate at high altitudes, apparently as we moved beyond my previous altitude record of 14,500 ft, new cravings emerged. I was dying for Skittles. My teammates Andrea and Sara came to the rescue with Luna Moons, Clif Shots and Jelly Belly Sours...YUM. These definitely gave me the fuel I needed to make it to one of the most beautiful spots on the trek...to be continued...

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Tengboche [Nov. 23rd, 2009|06:45 am]
November 23rd, Day 8

There was still a chill in the air when we left Khumjung (12,475) in the morning, but we warmed up as we descended down to the Dudh Kosi River and back up again to Tengboche Monastery at 12,680. (http://d30026567.purehost.com/index.html). Arriving at our campsite that afternoon was one of the highlights of the trip. We camped in a meadow just steps from the monastery. Our camp staff unloaded our gear from the pack animals and the yaks and zos grazed in the meadow. We spread out on the grass for lunch, basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun. At one point we looked up and saw a paraglider floating down the valley below us. Ama Dablam rose up above us in stunning glory, and we had a clear view of Nuptse and Lhotse, with Everest rising up behind them.

Cathy Ann had a treat in store for us...since the weather was so warm, the staff erected two shower tents, and boiled hot water for us to use in what amounted to a standing sponge bath. This may not sound very glamorous, but it was truly amazing. The steam from the hot water billowed throughout the shower tent, and through a plastic window on the side of my shower tent, I had a clear view of the peak of Everest. The aroma of my lavender-scented Dr Bronner's soap filled the air as I washed away the grime of the last 6 days of trekking.

I emerged from the shower tent feeling refreshed and renewed. I was glad I had showered when I learned that Cat had arranged a private audience with the Rinpoche (or high monk) of Tengoche. After visiting the main room of the monastery, we climbed a hill and made our way into a small inner sanctum that led to a courtyard. Inside the courtyard, we removed our shoes and hats and took instructions from Cat on the proper way to present our offering (in this case, 200 rupees and a white kata, or ceremonial scarf) to the Rinpoche.

We were then led into a small room, where after presenting our offerings, we sat on benches around the edges of our room and listened to the Rinpoche speak in his native Sherpa dialect. Our sirdar, Mingma, translated for us, and revealed that he has a close relationship with the Rinpoche, who is his wife's uncle. There was a lot of discussion around the modernization of the Sherpa people, the increasing distances they travel for work and school, and general concern for the preservation of Sherpa culture.

We had the opportunity to ask him questions. I asked how many hours a day he meditates (several in the morning, several in the evening). Others asked what advice he had for our upcoming trek to Everest Base Camp; he replied that we would be so cold, we wouldn't have much to think about other than that.

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Feeling better in Thame [Nov. 22nd, 2009|11:10 am]
Last night we camped at Thame in a lodge that had...wait for it...a Western toilet! It was so much fun peeing without engaging my quads.

Right before dinner, we had a visit from an artist named Pasang, who despite having lost all of his fingers and toes to frostbite, creates beautiful paintings of local monastaries and mountains. I couldn't decide between two, so bought them both!

In the morning, we awoke and hiked to the Thame Monastary (13,000). Outside, the monastary and surrounding prayer flags were bathed in light. Inside, the monastary was dim and warm, with TAnnkas hanging from the rafters and mandalas painted on the ceiling. Looking around at the wool robes arranged on the seats, as if waiting for the monks to dive into them, I was overcome with such a feeling of peace. Somehow being in a 500 year old structure, adorned with photos of lamas present and past, insulated from the harsh elements outside, I can imagine how peaceful and fulfilling it would be to spend ones life in prayer at this monastary.

From Thame we retraced our steps down past Namche, and enjoyed lunch in a lush juniper grove alongside the Dudh Kosi. Then we hiked up past the airstrip next to the Everest View Hotel, and then descended down through Kunde to take in stunning views of Ama Dablam.

We then arrived in Khumjung, where Hillary has built a school for the local children. They played soccer in the field while we set up camp, and two very sweet little girls joined Andrea and me on a walk through town to buy a Snickers.

I felt 100 bettr today then I did yesterday - my cold is abating and the altitude, while still palpable, is a little less exhasuting.

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Arrival in Khumjung [Nov. 22nd, 2009|06:32 am]
From here on in, my journaling on the trip consisted of mostly jotted-down notes (as you read the next few entries, you'll understand why). I wrote this one upon returning home.

Arrival in Khumjung
November 22
Day 7

As we arrived at our campsite in Khumjung, the sun was beginning to set and local children enjoyed the day's last moments of warmth playing soccer in the schoolyard. Our camp staff, normally hard at work at the wide variety of tasks required to feed and shelter us, were enjoying a rare moment of play scaling a rock wall that rose up above our campsite.

These young men, mostly in their early to mid-twenties, were incredibly fit, in an understated way. Most are thin and slender, none particularly tall, but all incredibly lithe and strong. One of our Sherpa's had made it to Camp 3 on Mt Everest, and many had experience on other 8000 meter peaks in the region. While we were slogging up the trail breathing hard, they were running ahead of us with full packs on their backs transporting gear to our campsite for the evening. In the time it took us to hike to our lunch spot each day, they'd prepared a 3 or 4 course meal; in the time it took us to meander from that lunch spot to camp, they'd set up all the tents and placed our duffels in the vestibules.

More impressive than their physical strength, though, was their commitment to the safety, well-being and happiness of the trekkers in their care. Even those with limited English were regularly checking in with us along the trail, making sure we had enough water and asking if we needed help with our packs. When yaks crossed our paths, they would stand between us and the yaks in case often naughty, sharply-horned animals decided to get frisky.

So it was a joy to see them on the rock wall behind our campsite enjoying themselves. After Andrea returned from our Snickers run, she brought out a Frisbee she'd packed and threw it around with the Sherpas.

Meanwhile, as the sun went down, the tea house where our camp staff was preparing and serving our dinner that evening got increasingly cold. The large glass-paned windows that let in sunlight and warmth during the day become a sheet of cold in the evening.

I was playing my usual warm-up game of Namche Solitaire when I realized other members of the trek were hunched and shivering around the table. I offered to lead everyone in some warming yoga poses, which quickly devolved into silliness. Somehow we morphed into the hokey pokey, which drew one of our Sherpas into the mix. He then led us through a traditional Nepali dance, and by the time dinner was served, we were all warm and happy.

Over dinner, Cat told us stories about her time on Denali (20,320 ft) in Alaska, on one of the original Breast Cancer Fund climbs. She spoke of sleeping 3 to a tent and taking turns waking up to knock the icicles of frozen condensation that hung over their sleeping bags as they slept. Somewhere in this conversation she mentioned she'd like to climb Denali again and asked who would like to join her. The cold was setting in again, and I told her as tempting as that sounded, maybe we could find a peak in Hawaii to climb and a beach to lie on afterwards.

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Why I travel with Cathy Ann Taylor [Nov. 21st, 2009|11:00 am]
From my couch:

I am not going to edit or expand on this. The typos are telling of how hard it is to type at altitude when its cold and you're tired from a long hike. I also think its funny how I end this entry, and in keeping with what I wrote in my last note about the onset of the Khumbu cough.

But I will plug Cathy Ann one more time...here is her website: www.cattara.com ... she is amazing!

From the trail:

Shortly after I moved to California, I lost my desire to travel. Everything I needed - huge mountains, beautiful lakes, fragrant forests and the ocean were all within a few hours drive. Why would I ever get on a plane again when my dog and I could scoot to any one of these places without leaving our beautiful state?

Besides, I'd been to Bhutan and India (and a host of developed countries) and felt like I'd experienced the developing world and vastly different cultures.

Through my work in the community its become painfully clear that we have our own struggle with poverty right at home, feuled by our very own cultural divides and corrupt governments. I have the pristine beauty of Bhutan and the devastatting poverty of India right at home.

Yet when I was faced with 60 days of gardening leave this Fall, I knew I had to leave my preference for California aside and spend some time exploring the world. I am blessed to have Cathy Ann Taylor as a friend, who has spent literally half her adult life leading trips in the Himalayas (she spends the other half at home in Sausalito with her husband Thupten).

With Cathy Ann, we are not just taking in the stunning views of the mountains around us, or rising to the challenge of a high altitude trek. We pass through the surface novelty of the unique dress and customs of the Khumbu culture, and learn how life is for them.

On our hike from Namche to Thame today, we stopped to visit with a Sherpa family that Cathy Ann has known for years. The grandmother and matriarch of the family welcomed us into her home and served us tea, while her daughter and grandaugters, and a couple of VERY cute great grandaughters, embraced us warmly.

Cathy Anns long friendship with this familly has resulted in several of her trekking clients providing scholarships for children in this familty who othereisw eouldny be able to attend schhool.

There were tears all around when the family thanked a couple on the trek who have sponsored two of their children for years.

After this moment, the climb to a monastary that 35 Tibetan nuns have made their home was stunning but noinetheles anticlimactic. But aghaun, Cats familiarity w Buddhusm her husbans us Tibeta! Made this a special moment.

Then we climbed high and I glfelt like crap.
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Rest day at Namche Bazar, hike to The Everest View Hotel [Nov. 20th, 2009|10:46 am]
For those of you that have read my Bhutan blog entries from 2006, I have to manage your expectations a bit here. Everything I blogged about Bhutan was written while I was on the trail. I brought my Blackberry with me (it had no reception, thankfully) and faithfully curled up with it every night in my sleeping bag and journaled about the day's events.

I was not as disciplined on this recent trip to Nepal. For one, I got into the habit of playing cards every night between when we got to camp (around 4:30) and dinner (around 6:30). A couple from Portland on our trek taught us a game of "solitaire", where each player has a deck of cards and sets up for solitaire but discards into a common pile in the middle of the table. It gets hairy as people fight over who put what card down first, and reach over each other to reach whatever pile they are looking to hit. We played this for HOURS in Namche so we ended up calling it Namche Solitaire. It was a GREAT way to stay warm as the sun went down and the chill settled into the tea house where we ate our meals.

On this trip I also got sucked into reading my books. First I read Pico Iyer's "The Open Road" about his lifetime of interactions with the Dalai Lama. I've read lots of the Dalai Lama's books, and it was fun to read about him from the perspective of a contemporary of mine. Then I read "Sorrow Mountain", the story of a now-deceased Tibetan nun who spent most of her adult life in prison. It was actually so heartbreaking I couldn't finish it on the trip. It was painful to read about the torture Tibetan Buddhists suffered at the hands of the Chinese while interacting almost daily with peaceful, loving and joyous refugees in monasteries along the trail. Finally, I lent "Push" by Saffire (on which the movie Precious is based) to several of the women on the trek, and that led to lots of book-club like discussions.

So long story short, many of my entries from the trail are short and a bit rushed. I'll fill in more color when possible, and indicate which entries are from the trail and which are from the comfort of my apartment in San Francisco.


From the trail:
Today was a rest day at our camp above Namche. After breakfast, we went on an aclimitazation hike to the Everest View Hotel (12,500). This hotel was built by the Japanese, along with a neighboring airstrip. The Japanese are avid mountaineers and also like to take short vacations - hence the airstrip built to accomodate the patrons of the Everest View Hotel.

The problem is that at 12,500 feet, it is really difficult to acclimatize within enough time to enjoy the mountains.

Luckily for us, the hotel is still open and serves delicious hot lemondade on their veranda in the shadow of Mt Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam and a variety of other large peaks.

After a quick lunch back at camp, we were treated to a slide show featuring the photos of the owner of a local tea shop. He has managed to capture stunning vistas of the surrounding areas, as well as rare moments with a snow leopard and other Himalayan wildlife.

From the comfort of my couch:

Namche was such an incredible place. Where else on Earth is there a bustling center of commerce (selling everything from yak bells to climbing rope to sleeping bags) that can only be reached by foot or helicopter? There were lots of little bars around the village, and we saw beer being hauled up both by porters (on their backs) and helicopter. And still a beer is cheaper there than in New York City. Go figure.

We spent a few hours basking in the sun, taking photos and drinking hot lemonade on the patio of the Everest View Hotel. It was a beautiful space (http://www.hoteleverestview.com/) and I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to enjoy a night or two of luxury in the midst of a trek in the Everest Region.

One more interesting note about this day in Namche...it was the day I started coughing (I didn't stop until I got back to San Francisco). I hacked pretty much the whole trip, as did a couple other people on my trek. Sure, it wasn't ideal, but it in no way tempered my enjoyment of the trek. I've learned a lot about what my body can withstand in the last couple of years, and hocking lougies up along the Khumbu Glacier was just not a big deal compared to some other things I've been through. Plus half the time the coughing fits were triggered by uproarious laughter, or a heated game of Namche Solitaire. A very, very small price to pay for such a fun time!

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The scariest part of trekking to Everest Base Camp... [Nov. 18th, 2009|09:53 am]
I've attached below what I actually wrote in my journal on the day we flew from Kathmandu to Lukla, a teeny tiny airport with a runway no longer than my parents driveway, which ends at MOUNTAIN WALL FACE, plunked down in the middle of 20,000+ foot peaks. While I want to remain true to what I wrote in the moment on this trip, I do feel that this particular experience deserves an epilogue. IT WAS THE SCARIEST THING ABOUT THE WHOLE TRIP, and close to the scariest thing I've ever done in my life.

I've flown into other mountain airports (like Paro in Bhutan) but in much larger, more modern planes than the itsy bitsy puddle jumper pictured below. The views of the mountains during the flight were gorgeous, but honestly I spent more time looking at pictures of my family because that was how I felt I should spend the last moments of my life as we bounced around in this tiny tin can.

This video from You-Tube shows a much calmer landing...imagine this with turbulence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeHeXm2gP7o&NR=1

Now here's my original journal entry:

Our day started at 4:15 this morning with a wakeup call and the last hot shower for the next two weeks. We were off to the Kathmandu airport by 5:45 and on the plane to Lukla by 7am.

The plane ride to Lukla was terrifying. I don't like small planes to begin with, so flying in what amounts to a puddle jumper through a corrider of 20,000 foot peaks - with turbulence - was not my cup of tea.

Luckily it was a quick flight, and I was able to distract myself by taking pictures.

We landed at Lukla (9200 feet) and were greeted by our camp staff, who offered us chai tea and cookies. That calmed my nerves considerably, and by the time we had our duffels loaded on our pack animals, I felt great.

The weather at this altitude is surprisingly warm. I hiked in a tshirt all day and had to slather on sunscreen.

Our trek today actually took us lower to a camp at 8900 feet. The trail is very easy terrain and frequented by many, many, many other trekkers. The trail is also lined with tea houses (some no more than 100 feet from each other) where hot meals, soda, beer and assorted junk food are readily available.

But the commercialization along the trail doesn't take away from the natural beauty. Prayer flags, chortens and prayer wheels line our path, and the Dudh Kosi river that flows beneath us in the valley is a stunning icy blue color. Lush hillsides rise dramatically all around us, crowned by stunning peaks, including 18,800 ft peak Khumbikla, the sacred peak of the Sherpa people.

We arrived at camp in the early afternoon. I led the group in some yoga, and watched as our camp staff tended to the zos (cross breeds between yaks and cows). We played cards, enjoyed tea, and settled in for a delicious dinner.

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