Saturday, 1 May 2010

Its Himalayas time!!! We were due at the tour office for 5.45 prompt as the taxi had to take us to the airport to catch our plane. At 6am i was awoken by emily who said alec's alarm didnt go off. With that, on went the boots and the shorts and we ran with our packs across Thamel, the short distance to the office. Our guide, Sonam (whose grandpa was a true ghurka) was waiting for us. We got in a cab and off to the airport we went. We waited for an hour or so for the next plane and boarded. It was a small propeller plane with no more than ten seats or so. The flight was about half an hour where we got our first glimpse of some snowy peaks, before landing in lukla airport. The runway was no more than about 100 metres, with a mountain on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The plane landed and skidded into place alongside the small warehouse/airport.

After we got our bags together and had our breakfast (all food included in the price of the trek) we began our first day of walking. Lukla - Phakding. From the noise and rush of kathmandu, the mountains were strangely surreal. The houses were all made from dry stone walls and corrugated metal and it dawned on us (once the trek was over) that we went for 14 days without ever seeing a car or motorised vehicle.

Anyhoo, the trek to Phakding was relatvely uneventful. A 2.5 hour down hill walk over uneven ground and mud. Still hard, but then I just wansnt used to it yet. Our room was a wooden box (one of many we stayed in) within the guest house. Most mornings we were up around 7.30, breakfast then out just after 8am. We headed to the Namche Bazaar, which is the main town in the solukhumbu area. We collected our permits and headed down into the valley. The river was pure blue and was bridged at a number of points by small suspension bridges. All over the valley were the coloured prayer flags, tied to the bridges, trees and buildings. The final leg of the day, we climbed an hour up hill to our final altitude of 3400 metres. Namche was a small town perched on the edge of a mountain in a horse shoe shape. As was the norm, our hostel was the highest and furthest away building in the town, and after 4.5 hours we settled into our wooden box. Acclimatisation day was the next day - where we climbed the short 300 metres to the viewpoint - saw the highest airport in the world and got our first glimpse of everest.

We were warned that from now on, we shouldnt order meat, and that anything we see has probably been bought up the mountain either by the yaks or by porters who carried more than double their body weight on their backs. As we walked from Namche to Pangboche, we saw the first large party of yaks. Every animal wore bells around their necks, and most had sacks of everything tied to them. Feeling sorry for the poor animals having to navigate the ridiculously bumpy and steep paths, we then saw porters carrying 2m x 3m squares of plywood on their backs, windows, metal and sacks of potatoes so our pity moved onto them instead. Indeed the further up the mountains we got, the more expensive everything was, obviously because this was the only method of food transportation in the mountains.

We had been walking alongside the river for a few days until we got to Pangboche. We had the hard 4 hour trek out of the valley to around 4000m, followed by a 3 hour walk the next day to Dingboche at the dizzying height of 4400metres above sea level. Reminding me very much of the stereotype of yorkshire, (just without the yaks and surrounding mountains) dry stone walls divided the land, buildings were low, and every hostel was called 'Everest view' 'Namaste Lodge' or 'Sherpa Hotel'. Acclimatisation day here required us to walk up 'sidstone peak' (named just because we were so great :D ) at 5100. This was by the far the hardest yet. The hill was steep and our guide Sonam seemed to have an aversion to taking breaks. After nearly falling off the mountain a few times, slipping on dusty paths and loose rocks, we clambered our way to the top and admired the view. We could see the river far below us, and by now at this height, all the vegetation was low lying grasses and most of it a browny grey in colour. Despite this the views were (and indeed continued to be throughout the trek) absolutely stunning. We perched on the rocks on the peak of 'sidstone' for half an hour or so. Prayer flags were wrapped around many of the rocky outcrops and flapped in the wind, yet there was little sound up there. After stumbling down the mountain (literally) we settled back into the Dingboche and bought some cookies from a local bakery - it wasnt a slice of lemon meringue pie that i saw (but didn't buy) in a bakery in the last town, but was still tasty nonetheless :D

O well, another day another 4 hour walk. We left running water far behind in Namche, so all toilets were squatters, and teeth were cleaned with bottles of water, whilst standing over the aforementioned squatter toilets. Showers were nothing more than tin boxes outside, rigged up with hoses to high windows into which large nepalese woman poured hot water. We arrived in Lobuche just in time for lunch, as always, though stuck a lot of the way behind a group of yaks. The temperature was dropping rapidly as we approached 5000 metres. Nights were cold so the hostels normally lit the gas stove in the dining room after dark. Failing to heat up anything within a 2 metre radius of the stove, everyone pulled up plastic chairs and sat until the stove died.

We also got a small amount of entertainment whilst in Lobuche - Nepalese woman v yak. A selection of unidentified foodstuffs were left outside on tarpaulin in the sun to dry out, when along comes the yak. He sniffs around, has a look, decides its safe, then runs up the stairs and starts gorging. Out runs a large group of guides and sherpas who start throwing rocks and the yak gets the point and leaves. Although....shortly after it came back. Hiding behind a towel hanging on the washing, it waits for its chance. It sneaks up to the stairs and..... along comes large Nepalese woman with a yellow stick (the same kind of stick security guards used to beat street kids with in India). After stones and sticks still dont work on the yak, ignoring all the heavier bricks and plastic chairs, the woman goes straight for a pile of yak shit and throws that. The yak (now knowing she means business) runs off and doesnt return again until later that day to munch on a selection of sun drying goodies. After seeing the same woman peeling potatoes, me and alec decided its probably best not to have chips in this particular hostel. The yaks, despite the shit throwing abuse, provide a lot for these communites - yak fur, yak meat, yak cheese, yak milk, and of course yak shit that goes into the heaters in the hostel.

We have now reached the halfway point of the trek. A further 3 hour trek and we reach Gorakshep at 5190 metres. From here we will make our way to everest base camp and up kalapathar where we will see the sunrise over everest. Its late however, so im off to bed. If you really want to know how my svelte and athletic physique handles those particularly dreadful climbs, then wait for my next update :D

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