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(Carried on from part 3)

Gorak Shep to Gokyo

 

This was a three day journey,. By now I new the mental focus that was required, but I was completely exhausted. The route crossed through Cho La Pass at 5330 metres, an icey pass and across the Ngozumpa Glacier. Now I always thought, naively, that glaciers were white, icy expanses leading into pretty blue pools of water. No, the reality of these glaciers is that they resemble a massive open quarry. There is ice, but it is under tons of dirt and rock. Frequent landslides show how literally these beasts of nature are ripping into the mountains. Crossing the 1.5 km of dirt is probably the closest thing to being on the moon or crossing a giant cat litter tray. It is a nightmare to get in and arduous to climb out off.

Ngozumpa Glacier

Ngozumpa Glacier

Reaching Gokyo was such a relief. in fact it was heavenly. Like some, balmy, Germanic lake resort without the naked sunbathers.

I chose a day of R and R, lying out by the lake as opposed to another climb for another amazing view. Ok, how could I miss another amazing view, but by this point I had seen enough jaw dropping amazing views for one trip, lets face it there is only a certain number you can handle.

 

Gokyo to Lukla 3 days. The first point that I came across trees I knew I was somewhere I belonged. Trees know where is good to live. Lichen and moss type plants are the crazy species of the plant world, they are bonkers. And where there are trees, there is firewood. It is the basic human need to burn things, and wood was born to burn. 

 

Warmth, electricity and being able to wash after 13 days are such basic necessities that make life so much more pleasant. I was pleased to get on a flight back to Katmandu and to the insanity of the city and sit down and eat a meal that I could taste.

Smart arse

Smart arse

 

If you ever think of doing Everest basecamp trip, I do actually recommend it. It is an experience where you will truly understand what you accept as normal in life. You will really get to know your body and what you are capable of. I loved it. And what is more you can justifiable where a T-shirt that states “Everest……..because it is there.”

If you meet  Pemba Noru Sherper, he has my boots.

 

This blog is dedicated to the 12 German tourists that died in the plane crash at Lukla, the 6 climbers that died on Everest, and to the mountaineers that are still waiting  for their window to summit Everest. I respect you all.

Motorcycle diaries soon to come.

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(Carried on from part 2)

Gorak Shep at 5140 metres.

 

When I crossed the glacial rock and entered the encampment of Gorak Shep I felt that I had entered hell’s arsehole. A dusty bowl consisting of 3 or so tea houses and a small shop with plentiful supplies of the most expensive beer in the world. Surrounded by glaciers and clocking up -17 at night this is not the sort of place you find honeymooning couples, unless they really hate each other or are from Belgium.

 

Welcome to hell

Welcome to hell

 

 

The tea houses at altitude all run off solar electricity and as such have suitably low wattage bulbs, if any at all, that make everyone look sicker than what they really are. The punters sip garlic soup (apparently good for altitude sickness) and huddle around the miniscule burner fueled by dried yak dung and wrappers from Bounty Bars. Everyone seems to play cards, it is the only thing to do, though often I wish these were thrown on the burner too to double the output from the less than efficient fuel sources. “Heat, I demand heat.”

 

A young girl inspects her fine collection of dried yak dung

A young girl inspects her fine collection of dried yak dung

 

 

Furthermore, it is too cold to wash. But at least nobody else is washing either. How can you when the water is frozen solid and a bucket of warm water will cost you more than a small flat off Highstreet Kensington. Everyone now has taken on the odor of sweat, a hint of urine, garlic and yak shit. Bottled, this could be worth a fortune – “Convince your friends that you are a world explorer – Everest by Calvin Clein as used by George Mallory……maybe”.

 

It is at Gorak Shep that you make the decision whether to do the 6 hour round trip to Base Camp – a journey through the glacier to find a rubbish tip surrounded by tents and hardcore mountaineer types that don’t want to speak to anyone because they are in the zone of being hardcore mountaineer types and have been stuck in hell for the last 2 months waiting for their window to go up Everest. Incidentally 6 people were killed on Everest the day I arrived in an avalanche, their bodies will probably never be recovered. Or, you do the trip up to Kala Patthar at 5550 metres to, apparently, get the best view of Everest without climbing it.

 

I chose the second option and instantly regretted it. Going up 400 metres at this altitude is bloody hard work. I shuffled along one step at a time focusing on breathing. If my mind wandered, which it does constantly, I would find myself desperately trying to catch my breath. It was a matter of focusing my mind and moving one step at a time. The top looked an impossible distance away. Every turn, every stone became a small goal towards the summit.

 

That's Everest, the grey thing in between the two white things

That's Everest, the grey thing in between the two white things

 

 

Surprising to myself I made it. The hundreds of individual goals got me to the top. And the view, well the view was crap. Snow had come in over Everest, so it was just a grey blob some un recognisable distance away. Not that this mattered as the aperture on my camera froze in the cold. I looked down to basecamp, a spec in the distance with a certain degree of admiration for those hardcore mountaineer types and a certain degree of “What on earth do you think you are doing.”

 

Click on photos to see full set of images.

Move on to part 4

 

(Carried on from Part 1)

Namache Bazar, at 3440 metres is generally seen as the first day of rest to acclimatise to the altitude. It is also the first opportunity to see Everest. A tiny spec in the distance, its beauty is  dwarfed by the far more impressive peaks that surround it.

 

It's so small

It's so small

 

 

 

In Namache it is your last chance to change cash or travellers cheques, purchase really heavy souvenirs so that you get your monies worth out of your porter and buy more hiking crap that you are paranoid that you think you will need.

 

I purchased a  wooden stick. A very fine stick at 110 ruppees and probably the only time in my life that I will ever purchase a stick. This stick though became my best friend on the journey and helped me through much terrain. I love my stick.

 

Me and stick

Me and stick

 

 

Moving on from Namche my next stop is Dingboche at 4410 metres. Now the symptoms of altitude sickness is extreme headaches, followed by vomiting and then death – a nasty way to go, less you get yourself down to a lower altitude fast. Everyday helicopters fly hikers back to Katmandu because they did not heed the warnings, at $3,000 a pop, this is an expensive mistake to make. For me I did not suffer from altitude sickness, however I did suffer from altitude.

 

Altitude does weird things to your body and mind. I woke up one night, paranoid that I could not breathe, at this altitude oxygen is running at 57%. I am in some kind of panic attack, I do not know if I am too hot or too cold, my sleeping bag feels like it has become a claustrophobic shell, strangling my body. My mind is saying “You cannot do this – strip off naked and run down the hill towards oxygen”. I need my air.

 

I tear myself out of my sleeping bag, death trap, and run outside. I focus, breathe, breathe Colin, breathe. I am alive and the panic subsides. I look up to the most perfectly clear sky and wonder at how beautiful it is with the mountains illuminated by a full moon. I then realise it must be -10 degrees out here, it is bloody freezing and I have the urge to return back to my snuggly warm, life giving, sleeping bag . Thank god I did not strip off naked and run down the mountain in a futile search for oxygen. Being naked in -10 degrees is not a good idea for more than 5 seconds.

 

Other things that I note is that my tongue feels twice the size and seems to have lost most of its taste. The relatively bland food seems even more relatively bland. Furthermore, mucus seems to be taking over my body like something from 1970s Doctor Who series. Blowing out snot and gobbing up chunks of phlegm are a regular occurrence. Being at altitude is going to be a reasonably disgusting experience I realise.

 

Click on photos to see full collection of images.

 

Go to Part 3

 

“Everest………because it’s there”, purports a T-shirt in a Katmandu tourist shop, referring to the famous words of George Mallory frozen in time as he was frozen to the top of Everest like a inquisitive 6 year old’s tongue on a freezing metal goal post.

 

Yes it is there and it sure aint moving for a while, I know, I’ve seen it. To see Everest in the real has been an ambition of mine for many years. I don’t really know why, the romanticism of it I guess. To feel a little of the spirit of Hillary and Tensing, Mallory and Irvine, the sense of exploration and pioneers of discovery all bundled into one, relatively safe, easy package of an amble up to the side of a mountain.

 

My journey starts in Lukla located at 2840 metres, a town built around the tiny but chaotic airport, where only 2 days before a plane stuffed it on take off, burning all the German tourists on board to death. The pilot miraculously managed to survive by jumping out.  Now this is an airport where you cannot make a mistake – once you are committed to take off or landing, there is no pulling out or the mountains will consume you and your “Everest…because it’s there” T-shirt . On the up side it will save your family a fortune on cremation bills.

Lukla runway

Lukla runway

 

I quickly get myself a local guide come porter for $300 plus tip, one Pemba Noru Sherper. With a name like that I figure he must have some vague idea as to what he is doing. Now you don’t really need a porter or to that matter a guide, but it would be so un English to go on an exploration of this magnitude without a lacky to carry my bags. Furthermore, being terribly English, I am carrying way too much stuff, but like to have so that I am prepared for any kind of emergency or toilet situation. So with this sense of adventure in mind – myself, Pemba and a shed load of toilet rolls set off. 

 

Now the first thing that you realise about the track that winds its way up from 2840 metres to  my destination, Kala Patthar at 5550 metres, is that yes there is a fair amount of uphill travel and that this track is an express highway for everyone and everything. Large groups of hikers whose habiliments consist of the latest in fake Gortex purchased in Katmandu rustle along with their double walking sticks like day glo shrimps feeling their way towards altitude sickness and dietry hell. Everything must be carried up this path and as such everything gets more expensive the higher you climb. A continuous stream of porters with amazing strength and yaks lug up the necessities of life – beer, Mars Bars and snooker tables. If you are so inclined you could make this the highest pub crawl in the world and can play snooker as high as Namche Bazar at 3440 metres. The price of a bounty bar rises from 70 ruppees in Katmandu to a staggering 150 – 200 ruppees above 4000 metres.

 

Despite the feeling that you are not on a quest of uncharted mountainous regions, the scenery is stunning, in fact I would go as far to say, jaw dropping. High mountains are surrounded by even higher mountains and you traverse deep river gorges over wire bridges that are decorated with prayer flags and have just enough wobble to cause the tinniest amount of concern and visions of yourself plummeting to you death in the freezing torrents below.

 

Accommodation is in tea houses, solid stone structures on the outside, but made from the thinest of plywood on the inside. Sound proofing is not their bag, Earplugs are pretty handy if you are disturbed by your neighbors rustling sleeping bag and/or flatulence. Also they are all run by vocal Nepalese women whose voice pitch is irritatingly located just under that which only dogs can hear.

 

The food is pretty much the same in all of them, consisting of variations on pasta, rice, potatoes and eggs. They are not exactly welcoming either, everything comes at a price. Your scrambled eggs will cost 200 ruppees in the morning and god forbid that you want toast with that, that will be an extra 150 ruppees thankyou very much. The mountains will eat up your money, so take plenty of cash, your American Express card will not be welcome here. Even my porter I feel is eying up my cash and stuff, considering his tip and what I may leave him as a present. Nepal is a poor country, but this is the money trail and I am on it.

Click on Images to see full selection of pictures.

Now see Everest……Because it’s there (Part 2)

Some people say that that was the quickest mid life crisis they have ever seen. Hit fourty and quit my job to go travelling, bang just like that. Well I actually handed in my notice two days before my birthday, so I guess it was just, slightly, pre mid life crisis. Furthermore, I believe that I will live to 93 so that pushes the crisis well into the realm of pre pre mid life crisis.

What is more, lets face it, life is full of crisis – the type of crisis that is easy to deny. Crammed on public transport as we suffer a job we don’t really want to do, only to pay for our overpriced existence. Violence in the papers, war, death and plague spurting from televisions, bread going stale etc.

Crisis is everywhere. We can hide this crisis and place it under the banner of “Not my problem” or “It is the way that it is” or “Things will get better”. We can accept that crisis is not part of the crisis. Most importantly we have to question, does it make me feel good?

So every good plan needs a plan.

Quit job and work out 3 month notice. This will allow the company plenty of time to re structure itself and figure out what on earth I did for them.

Carry out one month TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign Language) course. It’s always good to have a safety net as fall back. Also it makes my English betterer and will aid in learning something foreign.

Move to India. Everything about the country facinates me. Plus, I love curry and yoga.

In India I intend to carry out atleast 3 months charity work. Not too sure of the reasons behind this yet. Whether it is: maybe I am a good person or maybe I need the impression that I am a good person or maybe I do these things and become a good person. This I am not sure of.

After the charity work, for whatever its reasons, I intend to travel. I want to see as much of India as possible, spend time in Ashrams, travel to Nepal and go to Everest base camp, travel to Myanmar (Burma) and catch a boat to the Andaman and Nicobar islands. 

Carrying out Yoga, photography, writing and getting close to the people and culture are essential to the plan.

Over the coming months this plan will evolve. Place names, time and goals will hang off it like a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Eventually there will be a structure to the plan where all its integral parts will exist in symbiotic to one another with enough space to grow and be fluid.

Planning the plan builds the dream in the head. The dream becomes the future and ultimately becomes the past.

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