Dropping like flies

Deboche (3820m) to Dingboche (4410m)

We lost one team member after morning tea. Lisa had suffered stomach pain since the first day, and struggled with the uphill climbs. She and our guide made the call for her to be evacuated by helicopter. This turned out to be the right call, because it turned out Lisa's stomach pain was an inflamed appendix, and she had to have it removed in a Kathmandu hospital. Good times. We later heard Lisa's partner flew in to keep her company and we assume her second tour to India was cancelled. 

The walk itself on this day was manageable, with highlights including bypassing a collapsed bridge and seeing two mountain goats.

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By lunchtime we lost two more team members. Our teenaged Sophie felt (and looked) super unwell by lunchtime and was also evacuated with her dad.

By now our lunch menu had become very predictable, but having reached higher altitudes, most restaurants and lodges also offered oxygen services.

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We had now risen above the tree line and the landscape was much rockier with not much more than small shrubs covering the hills.


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We arrived at Dingboche fairly late in the day, and after dumping our bags we thought we'd go for a walk through town. We made it up the guest house’s steps (about 7 steps, so it took us a few minutes) and immediately called off the expedition. It was seriously cold. We all instantly panicked and decided we would freeze to death before reaching base camp.

Safely back inside the dining hall, we heard that Peter had wandered off to the bakery alone. We waited for an hour before deciding he must have perished in the cold and the dark. Dan, Peter's official health and safety buddy, felt a little remorseful, but not much.

Next time, read about our rest day in Dingboche and the continuing debate as to whether rest is best or rest is rust.

Alive!

It's all nearly over. Thankfully we survived our return flight from Lukla and are back in Kathmandu, enjoying coffee and pastries in the warm and sunny weather. We only have two plane rides and a taxi home before I can safely say that we survived this trip.

Time and internet have been limited, so I will cover a few days of trekking notes to catch us up. The short version is we made it to Everest Base Camp and haven't died yet. Woo hoo! We certainly weren't triumphant explorers with one foot on a rock and our hands on our hips. More like miserably cold wretches limping into camp asking each other 'What do you mean it's ON a glacier?'  

But let me tell the full story from where we left off. 

Namche Bazaar (3440m) to Deboche (3820m)

The walk was tougher than expected, with hours of steep steps up to a monastery, where, if you were willing to expose your stinky socks to some monks, you could sit in their hall and listen to them chant for a maximum of three minutes. Awkward. It's considered inappropriate and / or disrespectful to wear shorts, but surely it was more inappropriate when a member of our group (again, not our Peter!) exposed their dangles while stripping down to their jockeys on the front steps, in order to change into more respectful full length pants.

Paul had not fully recovered from his emergency poo incident, but still walked faster than me. What a champ.

The lodge at Deboche offered the opportunity to upgrade to premium rooms, with electric blankets, hot showers and private toilet, for the low low price of USD50. Two couples and a single traveller opted for the upgrade, desparately taking advantage of the last opportunity for some comfort before the only option became shared squat toilets and walls made of single sheets of plywood.

We watched an adorable foal and its mother chase each other around the field outside our window and stalked our yak-cows as they ate their dinner, before heading inside for ours. Hot towels were served before the food, which were super refreshing after they cooled down from their initial burn-your-face-and-hands-off temperature.

After dinner we played Pass The Pigs, to the fascination of our guides and hosts, and recieved a speech about how little headaches, a little uneasiness, and a little nausea at this altitude is normal. This mantra was to become the recurring in-joke of the group. 

Stay tuned for an account of our next day's adventure: more walking to Dingboche! Further exciting developments will unfold, including blizzards, accidents, card games and other high altitude dramas.

The real trek begins.

This morning we are leaving Namche Bazaar (3440m) after a two night stay and taking a mostly leisurely stroll to Deboche (3820m). We have all day to gain this elevation, so it should manageable. We already reached this elevation yesterday during a half day walk on what was meant to be our 'rest day'. So much for resting. We gained about 300m by zigzagging straight up a hillside. The steps would have been exhausting at sea level, let alone up here in the low air pressure. We stopped at Everest View Hotel and drank hot chocolate while gazing at the mountains, trying to figure out which one was Everest (the big one, I think?) and asking ourselves how the hell we were going to walk there.

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On the way down, shortly after leaving a perfectly good toilet behind, Paul experienced an unexpected bout of sudden onset explosive diarrhea and was forced to sprint into the bushes on the side of the mountain. Fortunately, the clouds provided sufficient privacy from the passing helicopters. His review of the whole experience: "You haven't lived until you have felt a fresh Himalayan breeze on your butt."

He's still not 100% but will hopefully come good today.

We got our daily pep talk from our guide last night, to prepare us for the next day. He wore his serious face for the first time and we got the sense that this is when the real trek begins. We have six more nights before reaching Everest Base Camp. We might not have the internets from here on, so if you don't hear from us again, assume the worst.

It's all downhill from here... metaphorically.

We left our luxurious lodge by about 8am, after a two course breakfast of porridge and omelette with baked beans, and set out for Namche Bazaar (3440m). We saw our first snow capped mountain too. You look up and see a big mountain and you think 'wow thats big'. Then you realise that what you thought was blue sky behind the big mountain is in fact a giant snow capped mountain in the hazy distance, dwarfing the 'big' one you were just admiring.  I didn't know mountains could get so big. We're not even anywhere near Everest yet!!

The morning's walk was very pleasant with an alarming amount of downhill progress. This only meant we'd be climbing back up later in the day. We followed the river and passed through some beautiful towns.

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Sure enough the uphill climb began after lunch. We stopped passing through towns and we're now just surrounded by pine and rhododendron forest.

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Then came the last river crossing. You'll see in the photo two bridges. We were heading for the higher one. Of course.

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We arrived at Namche Bazaar after an entire afternoon of walking through nothing but forest. The size of the town was pretty astonishing, given that it was so remote. Pete said it had just about doubled in size since he was here in 2008.

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We stay here for two nights in order to acclimatise to the altitude, and it is our last opportunity for hot* showers and cosy rooms. *We're leaving this morning and tragically I've yet to experience this elusive hot shower. Luke warm and tepid were the best I got. Nevermind, it's a warm up to showering out of a bowl. 

Walking is safer than flying.

Our walk from Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m)  was meant to take 3 hours. We left Lukla a little later than planned, then had to stop and take photos of the amazing scenery every ten steps or so. In a classic Pete move, Dan instantly lost his brand new sunglasses, leaving them on a bench less than half an hour from Lukla. He realised about 20 minutes later, but nobody wanted to walk up hill to retrieve them.

I only had enough water for an easy down hill 3 hour stroll, but this turned out to be a little more effort and I had to buy an extra litre of water when we stopped for lunch (which still wasn't enough but I have since learned my lesson). We ate at a restaurant perched on the side of the mountain, overlooking an amazing valley. The sun had come out shortly after we left Lukla (so the remaining flights for the day landed in perfect weather) and we sat in the restaurant's courtyard baking in the hot sun and cursing the stupid roll on sunscreen that we thought at the time of purchase would be very convenient on a hike. I'll be writing a letter of complaint to the Cancer Council upon my return to Melbourne. We eventually moved inside and ate some seriously delicious Dal Bhat, a lentil dal served with rice, cooked oniony spinach and papadams. The meat eaters of the group also got a very boney chicken curry. I wasn't hungry at all, and panicked a little when I saw the serving size, but once I started eating I pretty much finished the whole plate in about 5 minutes. Good food. Our guides double as waiters when we stop at restaurants for tea or lunch, or at our guest house for dinner. If you order the Dal Baht they come around with plates of extra rice, dal and spinach and top you up. Bonus good food.

After lunch a little girl entertained us by drawing all over the walls in crayon and showing off a letter she was writing to her dad. She was smitten with Paul's very reflective sunnies and played with them constantly. She also went around to every backpack and attempted to close all the buckles. Very cute.

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We retrieved our possessions from the tiny child and waved goodbye, and continued to head into the valley. We passed through the main village of Phakding and crossed our first suspension bridge. Picture a narrow metal trampoline suspended over a gushing river. 

A little more walking brought us to an amazing guesthouse relatively isolated from the town, by around 4pm. The guesthouse was brand new.

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Pete learned from the owner that it was also brand new in 2015, shortly before it was flattened by the earthquake. They had only recently finished rebuilding it. Unbelievable. The entrance of the lodge took you into a foyer reception area, with comfy couches and beautiful wide raw pine floorboards, and benches to stow your packs and trekking poles. We were offered tea and coffee and then changed our hiking boots over for the guesthouse provided masseuse sandals. The bumpy souls were very very satisfying to our sore feet. Our room was really comfy and overlooked the front of the property, over a lawn and into the field where our yak-cow hybrids were resting, having carried the bulk of our gear down from Lukla. I think they'll be with us for the whole trip.

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We settled in and enjoyed dinner together in the guesthouse's restaurant. Dan, Paul and I then rugged up and went outside to try and take some photos of the stars. Sadly, there weren't any. 

When the sky doesn't clear, fly up.

To continue from where we left off: the pilots had aligned the plane for a second attempt at landing. The cloud was a little denser than our first attempt. I knew we were flying relatively low, between mountains. The runway was not visible, and neither were the mountains. Not good. I was sitting next to the emergency exit (not an accident) and between staring at the dashboard, the pilot's face and our guide's face to guage their reaction to the situation, I was also staring at the emergency exit lever, wondering how exactly I am meant to remove the cover, let alone fit through the tiny hatch, and should I succeed in doing this, how I might exit the plane without being sliced up by the propellers. I even turned to check our flight attendant's face, but received the obligatory neutral stare. The pilots made their decision and again turned about in a wide loop, and again we got a proximity warning, which the pilot closed without really reading it, and again peered into the haze looking for the other plane. I later learned from our guide that the pilots had made the call to divert the plane to another airport, but the traffic control at Lukla told them to give it another shot. I also learned later that all of our luggage had been left at Kathmandu airport, to go on a later flight. The reason for this was that they knew the weather was bad at Lukla, and were expecting they might have to have a few goes at landing, and didn't want to waste any fuel in a heavy load. Joy. Paul's attempts to calm me down consisted of tapping me on the shoulder and then pulling a wide mouthed grin. If I wasn't worried about unbalancing the teensy plane, I would have reached across the isle and slapped him. So, as we swing around our second loop, we climb higher, until we are out of the haze and the pilots can now see the edge of the cloud formation, and we have line of sight to the airport. The pilots now fly the plane down and over the edge of the cloud, and we dive for the runway. The landing from here was actually really straight forward. The plane lines up with the runway and we slide into it with barely a bump. Though the brakes are immediately slammed on; it is a short runway after all. We reach the top end of the runway, it's on a slight hill, and turn straight into the parking area on the right. I'm not satisfied that I can stop contemplating the operation of the emergency exit until the door at the back is open and people start descending the stairs. Safely on the ground, I had a minor meltdown conveying the finer details of our traffic proximity warnings and loop de loops to an oblivious Paul.

Lukla was cold, and a stark contrast to the very sweaty and sunny 30 degree day we enjoyed in Kathmandu. We instantly made the decision to buy more layers at the earliest opportunity.

And here are our post landing faces:

Dan: "A more enjoyable flight and comfortable landing than our other flights. 10/10. Would loop again."

Dan: "A more enjoyable flight and comfortable landing than our other flights. 10/10. Would loop again."

Paul: "I have no idea what just happened or where I am now." 

Paul: "I have no idea what just happened or where I am now." 

Pete: "Eery silence and apprehension on approach, relief upon looping, then everything was fine!"

Pete: "Eery silence and apprehension on approach, relief upon looping, then everything was fine!"

Bec: "Will be walking home." 

Bec: "Will be walking home." 

And here are some photos showing the kind of plane we flew in, and just how short a runway can be:

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The sky didn't clear, but we flew anyway

Our flight from Kathmandu to Lukla was pretty harrowing as visibility was quite poor. Take off was smooth, and we were right on the tail of another plane, probably also heading to Lukla. I guessed a third plane would be right on our tail. Once we were in the air it felt a lot like our tour van that we'd been riding around in all day yesterday. Everyone was packed in shoulder to shoulder, cracking jokes about accidents. Most of the flight was very hazy, and there were plenty of big fluffy clouds in our way. As the pilots were lining up for our approach to the airport, they leaned over the dashboard, squinting and pointing and saying 'Is that it?' and shaking their heads etc. This is fine. They had a small debate as the haze did not show any signs of clearing and then quickly swung us around and into a big loop. I had been eyeballing the dashboard display showing our route and topography etc, and it flashed a traffic warning. The plane that had tailed us was now in our way. The pilot closed the alert without even checking the distance of the little icon that was heading straight for us, then craned his neck looking for the other plane. I saw it fly by in the distance. Our loop had taken us full circle, and we were once again aligning ourselves for a landing. This time it was darker and hazier than before. 

Oh I am out of time! Find out in our next post if we survive. 

Waiting for the sky to clear

The sky isn't clear enough to take off yet, so we wait.

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We got a packed breakfast! 

We got a packed breakfast! 

We're flying with Tara Airlines, which may or may not be good. It's not Sita or Yeti, which is good, I guess. But other than that, who can tell the difference?

Tenzing-Hillary Airport is the first place we'll probably die.

The most dangerous airport in the world will most likely be our final destination, but if we happen to survive, we'll have a long walk ahead of us, so... swings and roundabouts?

Photo: Jeremy Broomfield.

Photo: Jeremy Broomfield.

To be fair, there hasn't been a disaster here for years, and there are planes flying in and out all the time. 

We leave our hotel at 5am,  for a 6.30am flight. We may or may not take off at all, as it depends on the weather. Here's hoping for an early monsoon! I mean, clear skies!

 

Bec and Dan can't handle the camera flash. 

Bec and Dan can't handle the camera flash. 

So long.

Pre-trip disasters

1. Paul gets a really bad cold.

2. Paul's bank cards get cancelled. 

3. Daniel's bank card gets cancelled. 

4. Daniel puts all his money on a travel visa, then gets locked out of his account. 

5. Pete does the same and is also locked out.  

6. Pete loses his bag, then loses his boarding pass within 60 seconds of attempting to board, goes back for the bag, can't get on plane, needs new boarding pass. 

Nothing can possibli go wrong.

 

Begone.

Oh shit. Our flight leaves tomorrow morning, and I nearly forgot to set up the blog. Here it is. We're off to Nepal for a few weeks to do the typical Everest Base Camp trek. Mugshots below, for media use in case we all die:

What a bunch of creeps.