Markus Harder
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Harder to Nepal

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Nepal Himalaya 2002 Diary

Day 00, May 06, The flight to Kathmandu
Day 00, May 07, Getting used to Kathmandu
Day 01, May 08, These are no mountains, these are only hills, Phakding
Day 02, May 09, Namche Bazaar - Don't go too far or you will be shot
Day 03, May 10, Rest Day at Namche, an informative day
Day 04, May 11, Easy trekking to Tengboche monastery
Day 05, May 12, Going up to 4400m, Arne loves his diarrhea, Dingboche
Day 06, May 13, Whenever the American economy is not working they just decide to go to war, Lobuche
Day 07, May 14, The Everest Base Camp (5500m) - meeting the Russian Lhotse Expedition
Day 08, May 15, Summiting Kala Pattar (5548m) - the altitude caught us
Day 09, May 16, DoubleJacksTrippsToWinLowChicagoInTheWholeTakesTheHalf
Day 10, May 17, Back in Namche, the video of the 1970 Japanese Skiing Expedition to the Everest
Day 11, May 18, Thame Monastery, the monks invite us for lunch, the potato day
Day 12, May 19, Namche Bazaar, Yak Steak
Day 13, May 20, Unspectacular way back to Phakding
Day 14, May 21, Lukla - partying with the Nepali army
Day 15, May 22, Flight back to Kathmandu (this is the first flight within the last 3 days)

Day 0, May 6, Monday

Flight from Delhi to Kathmandu with Royal Nepal Airlines, after ten hours of stay in the transit hall of Delhi airport (12:35 am to 10:40 am). On the same flight to Delhi and transiting to Kathmandu are two medicine students from Denmark who are going to work for Kathmandu Hospital as their exchange year. Also with us is Pemten Lama, a Nepali business man who runs a factory and trades carpets to Germany, Austria, Great Britain and the US.
After checking our luggage through to KTM Pemten and I want to leave the airport to sleep in a hotel, but the Indian officials would not let us leave the airport as apparently too much time has passed since our plane had landed. So we are trapped in this uncomfortable transit hall even though we have a regular visa for India.
Pemten pays for my water and food as I do not have any Rupees. He explains me a lot about Nepali habits, hotels, tourism and prices. Finally we make it through a horrible night in some armchair. Royal Nepal Airlines take us to Tribhuvan International Airport Kathmandu (KTM) with a Boeing 757 where we park about 30m away from the arrival hall. But interestingly we do not just walk off directly. We have to take a bus which takes a huge turn, going double the distance to drop us off about 20m from our plane.
Upon arrival, a short description of the visa process: with the disembarkation card, visa application form and a passport size picture you go to the counter for the without visa people, pay $ 30 US and off you are.
When leaving the airport, a horde of people want you to take their taxi and another group wants to carry your luggage. "No, no taxi. I am waiting for my friend". Hmm, but there is nobody. After about 30 min a guy shows up with my name written on a sign; it is Pemba Sherpa, the brother of Gelu Sherpa. He hardly speaks any English, but puts a Tibetan scarf (Khada) around my neck as a welcome gift. We take a taxi to the hotel and I use the few Nepali Rupees that Pemten Lama gave me in case I needed to call him to tip off the notorious baggage porters who expected dollars or euro and were quite unhappy that they could not rip me off.
Arrival at the Hotel New Gajur: Three smiling boys carry my luggage and say "Namaste" (Hello). Good beds, own bathroom with shower and hot water, ventilation, no AC. Not luxurious but good enough, $ 7,50 per night. Later we pick up Arne from the airport.
Arne and I relax at the hotel - knock - knock - "Namaste, I am Gelu. I just got back from my sick mother, so I can be your guide as promised." My first thought: "Yippie, his English is much better than Pemba's, we can understand him!"
In the evening Gelu takes us to a typically Nepalese restaurant called "Nepali Kitchen". We have a lentil soup, Dal Bath & Tarakeri and Chicken, including drinks and yoghurt dessert for Rp 240 (Euro 3,50). One thing we learn and what Pemten Lama has told me: Only drink previously boiled or bottled drinks!
After going home and washing our hands for the 20th time this day we go to relax at an internet cafe (10 computers are probably sharing one 56k connection) and shoot some pool in an underground bar later that night. At 11 pm the bar owners lock their doors so they get around the curfew. After 11 pm there is only military on the streets. Arne looses three games in pool and a Nepali guy wants to play for money. After I won the first two games and 80 rupees he wants to bet much higher. I know that he missed some shots intentionally so I am aware that this is getting risky for me. Arne and I decide to go home as it is already late.
Back in the hotel we both have to digest the manifold new impressions of the first day.
Quote of the day: "I will lock the door so that we are not surprised by some Asia Noodle Snack."

Day 0, May 7, Tuesday

Gelu wanted to pick us up at 10 am, so our alarm goes off at 9:30. We are ready by ten. Around eleven - no Gelu. We walk around in the streets, back at the hotel at twelve - still no Gelu. He finally shows up at 12:15 - let us go for lunch. That is how Nepali clocks work. We have lunch right across the street in some dark backyard. Nobody is in that room except for a Buddhist monk and a guy talking to him. The waiter takes our order. Arne takes buff momo (water buffalo wrapped in dough), Gelu and I take chicken momo. Momos are similar to Swabian "Maultaschen".
A perfect scene: The monk walks to the refrigerator, pulls out a bottle of cool coke, opens it, walks past us and drinks. This looks like the latest Coke commercial: "Asia drinks Coke - believe!"
After lunch Arne and I decide to see the rough side of Kathmandu. We only have to walk down our street away from the lively city center and it starts to get a little bit dirtier. The streets get narrower, solid paving turns into mud. There are many people in the streets, even more garbage, fewer shops, selling only old and bad looking veggies. Kids do not wear shoes and they do not have anything to play with. We meet many beggars - let's get outta here.
We walk far until it gets better. You can see the standard of living increase as you walk. We are passing the Royal Palace which was open to visitors until all members of the royal family were killed in a terrorist attack. This was the start of the whole political crisis. With the late king's brother now reigning Nepal is still in a state of emergency: heavy protection for airports and infrastructure, strict curfews in every city, fights against the rebellious Maoists in many regions.
Back at the hotel we rest. Gelu stores my suitcase at his apartment so that we do not have too much luggage on our trek.

Day 1, May 8, Wednesday

The alarm goes off at five - we refuse to get up. Fortunately, the ever-smiling hotel boy wakes us up at 5:15 am. Enough time for us to take a shower (turning the bathroom into a swimming-pool). Brush our teeth, put on the trekking shoes and Gelu comes into our room right on time. The taxi is waiting downstairs.
It takes us 30 min to get to the airport; Kathmandu is not really awake yet. We pass several military posts with heavily armed soldiers. The domestic flight to Lukla with Shangri La airways is scheduled at 7 am; we have to take care of our Sherpa since the controls are stricter for the Nepalis. Tourists never encounter any problems as they are an important factor for the Nepali economy.
A huge trekking group - The Everest Marathon - goes through the "security checks" and we scoop in between. Inside the terminal Gelu meets someone he knows and jokingly I say it is his father. As we do not reach the maximum load of luggage this man talks Gelu into taking two huge bags of rice with us to Lukla. Later Gelu tells us that this was his uncle who trades goods with the Nepali army. Gelu also takes a bag of toys, balls and sweets with him. In Lukla he is supposed to give this to the soldiers as a present. At 7 pm Shangri La puts up a sign that the flight takes off at 9:25 - two and a half hours later. F**k, so we have to wait. Shortly thereafter the teashop opens; at least we can get something warm to drink in the morning - our first milk tea.
It is impossible to get an English newspaper. Every airport official has one but somehow this is a symbol of status and none are left for me. I do not know where it came from (probably Gelu's uncle) but after 30 min I have my own! Meanwhile our flight is rescheduled again - will leave at 8:30, so it is time to go through the hand luggage check. At 9 am a bus takes us to the runway passing military planes, old helicopters and women repairing a part of the runway. The bus stops but no airplane in sight. At 9:15 it touches down, not bigger than an Al Bundy shoe box, but it can transport 18 passengers. Loading the plane is easy: First the flour and the rice, then our bags. The rest of the bags go inside the cabin right behind me.
In front of me sits an old Sherpa woman - dressed in traditional Sherpa clothes and a pair of freaky-looking New Balance shoes. She smells strongly. Furthermore, there is a French surgeon with Sherpa, a Canadian couple with Sherpa and a Polish guy with Sherpa. The steward hands us sweets and cotton (for the ears). The small propellers start to rotate and off we are.
From the air you can see many mountain ranges, also the Mount Everest. Shortly before we get to Lukla (2800m) we narrowly pass over a mountain - a skilift would be higher above ground, but fortunately we did not hit any cows.
Then the plane drops dramatically before we can see the runway (but we do not want to see it). It is built on the mountain, steeply uphill. That is why we have to drop down before we can land uphill. Stop as fast as possible. This captain seems to have landed on many aircraft carriers before.
We take our luggage, walk over the runway and pass the army posts. Gelu bargains with different porters, finally he takes one. While we have lunch at the Eco Paradise Lodge the porter straps our bags together so he can carry them on his head. We look around and ask Gelu for the names of some of the mountains surrounding us (probably 4500m high). Gelu says: "These are no mountains - these are only hills!" (Quote of the day)
At 11 am we leave Lukla, pass Chablung and Ghat, get a good view of the Kwande (6187m) and the Mera (6476m), pass a Buddhist monastery and always have to pass every Mani (Prayer stone) on the left side. After about two hours we reach Phakding (2500m). By that time we have passed the Canadians, the Polish and the Everest Marathon group. Gelu estimated four hours of walking but we were much faster - even our porter Pine could not keep up, he came in 30 min later. In Phakding we stay at the Everest Guest House. As we walk around Phakding we meet the Canadians again and a guy from New York (Ned). The Canadians are figure skaters for "Disney on Ice" which tours Asia at the moment.
We go to bed with the sunset which is 7:30 pm - for staying in shape we do some push ups and sit ups (we want to keep doing these exercises during the whole trek).

Day 2, May 9, Thursday

Our bedroom is separated only by thin wooden walls to the others; therefore, we can hear everybody turning around, snoring and getting up. Hmm, the first ones got up earlier than we wanted to, so no more sleep. We finally daze until 6:30 when Gelu wakes us up. We pack our stuff so that the porter can get a head start.
For breakfast we get milk tea and Sherpa bread which is fried dough, relatively sweet. I know a similar Swabian specialty called "Verzogene Kuechle". We leave at 7:30, let us try to catch the porter and the Canadians who left 30 minutes earlier. On our way we pass four swinging bridges, after one hour of walking we catch up with Pine, shortly thereafter we pass the Canadians and the French guy. Gelu always tells us that we are very fast but regarding our heart rate it seems quite acceptable. We are walking in a valley, the hills around us are constantly getting higher. To enter Sagermatha National Park Gelu has to buy a permit. Jorsale (2810m) is the last settlement before the path starts to climb up to Namche Bazaar (3440m), so we take lunch there. Fried noodles should be fine - the porters and the Canadians arrive after 30 min. Are we strong enough to take the highest swinging bridge on our tour and to climb up to Namche?
It takes us 2 hours to get there. On the way we see the Ama Dablam (6856m) and a little piece of the Everest.
Namche Bazaar is a little city with a small airport, built on a hill. The army post at the entrance registers us; I want to take a picture of a soldier, but this is strictly prohibited by government - ok, just do not take away my camera. Now we walk up to our hotel. The way upwards does not want to stop; after 200 additional meters in altitude we reach the Passang Lodge featuring the world's highest solar heated bath tub. Signs say internet and telephone everywhere but the Maoists have capped all communication lines in the area, so no calling home. We are told that if we are on the streets after 7:30 pm the army will open fire. This is the official curfew of the Sagarmatha region. Namche is a pretty cool place which even has a couple of pool places where Gelu kicks my ass twice. Coke and Fanta prices rise with the altitude and so we pay over 2 Euro for an expired can of coke.
Arne wants to buy a flashlight since the sun sets around 7 pm and most bedrooms do not have light. Eventually, the fourth model he tries works but the batteries cost three times as much as the flashlight itself.
Back at our lodge we can get a great view of the army post on top of the mountain. Some artillery and sand barricades are stationed there. The lodge manager has to report our names to them. In the living-room we watch TV with everyone. With only 4 channels there is the only choice between sports, music, an Indian talk show and again music. We end up watching a super unrealistic Tibetan movie with an ape-man as protagonist, Buddhist gods and some martial arts scenes. At least the colors are always very bright. As usual we order milk tea with our dinner - today we try some potato filled dough and noodle soup.
We want to go and wash our hands before dinner, so I go and get my soap. When I come back, Pine has a bowl of hot water for us. We take it outside (it is 7:25). The lodge owner comes out and says very softly: "Don't go far!" (Quote of the day) - that kills us, metaphorically speaking.

Day 3, May 10, Friday

Acclimatization day at Namche Bazaar

We slept for 10 hours, at least that is what the clock tells us. Unfortunately our inner clock does not feel the same. We woke up many times during the night even though we were really tired. The altitude probably causes these difficulties, yet we have not experienced any serious headache and the air so far also appears to be normal. Arne tells me that I was breathing faster during my sleep and I also estimated my resting pulse at around 65 to 70 instead of 56 normally. In Namche Bazaar many signs and posters warned us about AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), therefore, we pay more attention to our health.
Gelu wakes us up at 6:30, the sun is shining. But when we finally get up clouds have already hidden the Thamserku (6808m). We hike up several hundred meters to Shyangboche airport, a grass runway going uphill. On the way we pass many trekkers, some of them seem to have real difficulties with the altitude. There is one American woman in particular that breathes heavily and probably has a pulse way beyond any good. I could tell that she was burnt out and should probably take a longer rest in Namche. Trekking almost 4000m up high is not like strolling along Maui Beach.
At the airport we walk over the runway. Gelu tells us that recently a plane has crashed and since the Maoists have destroyed all communication only helicopters are allowed to fly in. He flew in here last year with a French mountaineering group. They used a Russian helicopter because they can carry 3.8 tons of equipment, much more than any plane.
At the airstrip we meet another one of Gelu's uncles. He works together with his uncle in Kathmandu to provide the army with the necessary supplies. Goods come in at irregular intervals. We have tea at the Phinjo Lodge. We shoot some pool there - they have a perfectly straight pool-table, unlike the one down in Namche last night which was like the Himalayan highlands rather than a straight plateau.
Today is the day of information and statistics:
This year the number of tourists has gone down by 70% caused by the political instabilities in Nepal and by the worldwide recession. The Maoists have not killed any tourists so far but last year they tried to take over a district center close to Namche where dozens of people were killed on both sides.
Electricity is very expensive. 9 Rupees (14 Eurocent) per unit. People in Namche also have to pay a flat fee for water of 300 Rp per month as long as they do not surpass 6000 liters.
Namche has the highest hotel in the world. Our lodge has the highest solar heated hot tub in the world.
After several matches of pool we walk back in the rain. For lunch we have potato bread (similar to Reibekuchen) and milk tea as usual. Afterwards Gelu takes us to the Sherpa museum. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit the Mt. Everest, founded the Sherpa museum in Namche in 1994 together with a Sherpa from his former expedition.
Earlier on Sherpas only used wooden pots and storage tanks, now everything is made of tin and metal. Gelu explains the Buddhist prayer room to us which holds Buddha and two other gods, one who built the world and all being, the other one protects life and is help for everyone. Around them you have 20 or 108 (in the bigger monasteries) holy books and many other items that are supposed to fight all evil. Surrounding the temple there is a big white Khada (similar but bigger than the one we received as a welcome from Pemba). On the shrine there are small bowls filled with water. The water has to be changed every morning with the first prayer. For the ceremonies Lamas are playing strange instruments and Sherpas have to listen to the ceremonies from outside the prayer room.
The Sherpa Picture Gallery:
Shows many Buddhist ceremonies (all Sherpas are Nyingmapa Buddhists, the other three schools are Kargyupa, Sakyapa and Gelugpa), weddings, pictures of famous Sherpas, of Namche Bazaar and the mountains.
The Everest Documentation Center:
Here we find the whole documentation of the conquest of the Everest; descriptions of the first unsuccessful attempts by some British and Indian expeditions; the famous and spectacular ascent of the peak by Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953, followed by numerous other ascents along the three main routes. The most popular route starts at the base camp, goes through Khumbu Icefall and continues on the Western cwm before it climbs up to the South Col and the Southern Ridge. If you make it over the 10m high vertical Hillary Step you are on your way to the top of the world. The second route, being the easiest, starts in Tibet (China) and goes up the Northern Ridge. The most difficult of the three routes is the one starting from base camp and going immediately up the Western Ridge. Further on, you remain up there have to proceed to the top at strenuous height.
Other than these three "standard" routes, there have been many other successful attempts on new routes (approx. 12 routes in total), some of them extremely challenging. For example, in 1980 the Russians came from the Western cwm but took a route to the peak that no other mountaineer has ever managed to take again, or Reinhold Messner's spectacular "solo run" from the Tibetan side on a path between the Northern and Western Ridge, choosing a route that never crossed another team's way (no previous preparations), going up completely by himself within 3 days and being the first one to peak without using additional oxygen!
The Everest Documentation Center also keeps many newspaper articles on the numerous heroes of Sagarmatha (Everest) and many pictures of famous Sherpas.
The flip side to all fame the Everest can bring is the chance of DEATH it inevitably entails. One out of four mountaineers trying the unforgettable die in the process.
Namche also has a German bakery which we have to try (of course) - we have some chocolate donuts and apple pie. After warming up in the bakery we go to the market that starts Friday afternoon and goes on till Saturday. Many Tibetans park their yaks somewhere and present their goods, vegetables and fruit. We buy some peanuts and throw them at the girl working at the airport lodge. She joins us and invites us for tea nearby. There we meet with a Sherpa family and socialize nicely with them. You can clearly see the difference to many other people here. The girls are properly dressed and try to be attractive. All of them are still in school and their English is surprisingly good. After a second cup of tea we decide to go back up to our lodge. Arne and I take a hot (super hot) shower, relax and have traditional Tibetan food for dinner.
We are both extremely happy that Gelu integrates us this much in the traditional life and customs of his country and explains everything with patience.
7:25 pm 1 Gunshot
7:26 pm several machine gun shots
7:27 pm Quote of the day: "Move over here, this side is safe!" as we sit with our backs at the window facing the army post
7:28 pm more fully automatic bursts, but we continue watching an Indian movie

Day 4, May 11, Saturday

We got a good night's sleep - a good 10 hours. Our sleep was also more steady and quiet. At 6:30 the sun is shining, wake-up service by Gelu. We have a very good view on the yesterday mentioned Thamserku (6808m). But after we have put on our clothes the first clouds have already covered the mountains again. Today we did not get a clear view at any mountain.
We leave the Passang Lodge a little bit late, around 8:15 am, with around 4 to 5 hours of trekking ahead. The other groups have to ascend about 200m for taking the route which starts right next to our lodge. One and a half hours of light downhill trekking. The highlight of the day was passing the two Canadians (Alex and Holly) as usual.
Quote of the day: We are discussing how very few people (Messner and a few Sherpas) can make it to the Everest peak without additional oxygen and Gelu says: "Almost everybody uses oxygen to climb the Everest, but most Japanese tourists already use oxygen in Namche (3440m)!"
We have lunch in Phunki (3250m) with its many water-run praying mills, the last stop before the steep ascent up to Tengboche (3867m). After resting from 9:45 to 11:30 and chatting with the Canadians we take the hike up (600m) within 1.5 hours, probably too fast but we feel good and strong; all the while, we are already slowing down from the "hill-run" we were practicing the first three days.
Tengboche has a very nice monastery. We get to see the monks at their mess. Monks drink Sherpa tea and eat Sherpa bread during their messes and make a lot of noise with strange instruments. The tourists have to sit on one side of the wall, every monk is sitting on an elevated bench and a pillow. We are allowed to take pictures. We stay the night at the Tashi Delek Lodge right across the monastery entrance. In the dining hall everybody gathers around the oven. There we meet three German women and a man who had to turn back before reaching the base camp due to serious AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Now they are discussing how they can get the man down to lower altitudes.

Day 5, May 12, Sunday

At Tengboche we slept well, even though most people have a restless night in this altitude. In the morning the sky is completely clear so we can get a good shot on the mountains surrounding us: Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Thamserku,…
The monastery shines beautifully in the early-morning sun but after taking some pictures we have to leave it behind. We take a 30 min downhill walk on which two straying dogs show us the way. This can happen to you any time and they just take you to the next village where they hopefully find their next victim.
We have not met the Canadians this morning, so maybe they did not stay in Tengboche. In the valley we can see some Himalayan pheasants but they are too fast to get them on a picture. We pass through Devuche (3800m) where our route is pretty flat. Shortly before stopping for lunch we catch Alex and Holly who are already joking about how slow we were this morning. Together with them and an architecture student from Arizona named Matt, we take lunch in Pangboche (3860m). It took us 1.5 hours so far with 2 more to go. We watch how some porters bring a big piece of yak meat to the lodge, flies everywhere. They cut off a big piece for the cook. The Sherpa of the Canadians also buys a piece, but we western customers are quite disgusted about the hygiene of the meat transportation.
The last part of the route is as easy as the first. Arne and I have to slow ourselves down all the time because we have seen too many victims of mountain sickness. AMS is definitely something we do not want to get.
Tonight we stay at Dingboche at an altitude of 4410m. In the village we stay at the highest lodge. We all have a slight headache, Arne also has diarrhea. Hopefully this will go away by tomorrow. Quote of the day: Arne: "I would love to fart, but I don't dare to…"
We buy extra Water for 2 Euro each as we are afraid of dehydration. As soon as the sun sets the temperature drops dramatically up here.

Day 6, May 13, Monday

As Arne and I did not feel too good in last night we decided to see our headache in the morning and decide if we should take one day of rest here. Our sleep at 4460m was rather rough but we felt good the next morning.
After sleeping in until 7:30 we decide to go on. The lodge in Dingboche is not so clean (for the first time we clean our drinking water with iodine tablets). Furthermore, we fear that not the height could be our worst enemy but rather catching a flu. So there is no time to lose. Starting late at 8:30 we walk very slowly but the headache comes back very early. On the way we meet a guy from Iceland. He speaks perfect German, tells us that he has lived in Leipzig for two years and that he is finishing his master's degree in Copenhagen, Denmark.
After 90 min of walking we reach Dhugla (4620m) where we take lunch. There we meet a group of Swiss people who also stayed in Dingboche last night. All of them have taken one year off to travel on all the continents. There is also a couple from Venezuela, the parents of the husband were actually German and Austrian. He operates a big dairy and food business and just came to Nepal for several days. So everybody at the lunch table speaks German.
The guy from Iceland takes off without any lunch because he wants to eat in Lobuche and then go further up to Gorak Shep today. He has already been to the base camp and higher several times during the last few weeks so the height is no problem for him. A friend of his is trying to summit the Everest with a commercial expedition called "Adventure Consultants".
On our way up we stop at Thuklala, a place with many prayer flags where they put up a stone monument for every mountaineer who died on his way up the Everest. There are so many stone monuments that you cannot count them all.
At 1 pm we reach Lobuche (4930m) where we again stay in the highest lodge, the "Over the clouds lodge". At 4 pm a colorful group of trekkers comes in with whom we will share the lodge. They travel without a guide or porter: an Australian girl (Esther), an American Marine (Mike), a Mexican (David), a British (John) and a German (Stefan). For dinner Arne and I plan to have our first yak steak. Gelu told us that they get better the higher up you get. But unfortunately the lodge does not have good meat today, so again we go with Rara Instant Noodle Soup. Quote of the Day 1: "With Rara Soup you can never go wrong!"
Quote of the Day 2: Arne and Mike are discussing about our countries' economies, Arne says: "Whenever the American economy is not working too well they just decide to go to war."
The Nepali kids at the lodge are quite inventive in ball games. As a ball they took styrofoam balls, put them into several plastic bags and wrapped them up with strings. Although it does not have a ball-like shape the ball is still good enough for volleyball and some soccer.

Day 7, May 14, Tuesday

Although we had the worst night of our lives we continue our trek. In a height of about 5000m you wake up all the time, your throat is extremely dry, the nose is dry, the water tastes bad, the wind is loud and cold and your expectations of the following day will not let you rest. But we are too close to our aim!
Alright, a quick milk tea, a muesli and off we are. We know that it usually takes 2 hours to Gorak Shep (5160m) and another 6 hours roundtrip to the base camp and back. Earlier experiences have shown us that these times are easy to beat. But today was not our day, especially not mine. I feel very dizzy this morning and am totally dehydrated. So we are fighting our way up to the last lodges on our way (Gorak Shep has only two). It takes us 2:15 hours and we are exhausted. I do not want to continue anymore - my head is killing me. While I drink a lemon tea in the Gorak lodge two Lamas are sitting there, throwing rice around and praying to the gods to protect the expeditions climbing the Everest and Lhotse.
I think to myself: "I am already that far, I can not give up now!" After a Rara Soup we take our heavy legs and go. On the way to the base camp we have to pause many times. The way is constantly going up and down and very unpleasant. I think I am developing a bronchitis. Halfway through the trek the scenery changes and a rocky glacier with many little lakes emerges. After 3 strenuous hours we reach the base camp (5350 - 5500m). It is a collection of many tents on the left side of Khumbu Icefall. The expeditions have to stay on the glaciers moraine for approximately 1 to 2 months to wait for the perfect ascent.
Gelu knows the sirdhar (chief Sherpa) of the Russian "Lhotse Saint Petersburg" expedition that is headed by Alexei Paskhin. They invite us for some tea and crackers but tell us we should only stay here for 30 min. As I would rather get a close-up of the humongous icefall Arne, Pine and I walk up to the icefall. This takes some skills to master the big stones in the moraine. We shoot some pictures there.
It is getting darker, 4 pm almost. We have to get back to the Russians. Pine cannot hold it any longer and is using the toilet tent of the Russians.
Quote of the day: The drunk Russian chief coordinator runs out of his tent and shouts, "You Nepali brat, you dare to shit in my toilet? This shit costs you 70 Rupees! You hear me? Every shit costs you 70 Rupees! … Oh, you two... Germans?...Come here and drink some Vodka with us, we have to celebrate our boys summiting."
The Russians at the base camp started drinking at 2 o'clock in the morning because this was the day designated for their team of ten to summit Lhotse (8516m), the fourth highest mountain on the world. At 4 pm they still had not heard anything from their guys. You could see that they were getting more and more nervous and were listening to their radios all the time, with no response. With us they were cool; I tell them about my experiences and adventures in Moscow, they tell us about their backgrounds and plans. After a while they talk Arne and me into drinking this self-made liquor. Somehow I manage to get around it but Arne drinks the poisonous stuff.
At around 4:30 we definitely have to leave. They wish us the best as we wish them luck, but they still have not heard anything from their boys. Soon there will be no more oxygen bottles left up there. The next day we should hear that all 10 of them summited and that the expedition was thus successful. On the same day (or was it the 16th?) the Everest has been summited for the first time this year. Appa Sherpa (who summited for the 12th time - world record) as well as 76 others (the official reports state 54, 55 and 61 successful summiters, so what's the right number?) made it to the Everest's peak.
The way back to Gorak Shep should be as strenuous as the way up. All of the sudden Arne cramps himself heavily and cannot walk any further. The Russian alcohol must have caused some diarrhea explosion (no more details). It took him 30 min until we could proceed our way down. We arrive at Gorak Shep after sunset at 7:30, the longest day on our whole trek - so we drink and eat something and go to bed. John, the Brit, gives me a Diamox tablet to stop my AMS and I can sleep a little.

Day 8, May 15, Wednesday

Wake up 5:30 (no problem, we could not sleep anymore anyways). Somehow many others have left before us. I take the second half of the Diamox tablet. We have a milk tea but it is too early for breakfast. Immediately afterwards we are on our way up the Kala Pattar (5548m) - a trekking peak with an incredible view on the Everest, probably the most famous view of all. The incline is supposed to take us 2 hours but we are feeling rather sick. Flu, cough and altitude sickness are a bad mixture. That is why it took us 2.5 hours to tackle this beast.
"Wow - what a payoff!" On the top we are surrounded by the highest and most beautiful mountains in the world:
Pumori - Khumbtse - Mt. Everest - Lhotse - Nuptse - Ama Dablam - Lobuche - Gaychhung Khang
My dig cam works bravely and because we are at the peak early enough there are no clouds covering our lenses. We stay up there for almost an hour to take pictures of the mountains, us and my little mouse. This would be a perfect day for an ascent of any of these mountains.
The way downhill seems to be a lot easier for us but our coordination almost fails several times and we have to be very careful. Back at Gorak Shep we grab our luggage and continue down to Lobuche as fast as possible. The height is killing us. Arne and I are upset at ourselves that we did not acclimatize slower because we could have enjoyed it more up here.
At Lobuche we rest in the same lodge again. Now there are other people; we meet Ned again, an I-Banker in Fixed Income from New York. There are other Americans who teach us to play Hearts this evening. Being a little lower already we do not feel much relief yet but our hopes are on tomorrow's long walk down. The Lonely Planet says: Immediate descent is necessary; already 500m can help.

Day 9, May 16, Thursday

Yeah, 500m can help, so we will descend 1200m! After that we should be on the safe side. Gelu wants to go down to Devuche, a place where it takes you 2 days to go up; getting there should take us about 6 hours. We are flying - feeling good all the way. 1.5 h to Thukla, another 1 h to Periche for lunch and another 1.5 h to Devuche … done.
The landscapes and nature change dramatically after hitting the tree border line. We take a night's rest at a comfortable luxury lodge which basically means they have a ceramic toilet (to sit on!), a pool table and a heated oven all day long. This really equals a five star hotel. At night we play UNO and Poker with a few Americans who are on their way up. One of the Poker players is simply amazing. Quote of the day: "Let's play a DoubleJacksTrippsToWinLowChicagoInTheWholeTakesTheHalf."

Day 10, May 17, Friday

From Devuche we go up to Tengboche (3867m) with the nice monastery, then downhill again to Phungi Tanga (3290m) then up the hill again; the same way as several days ago.
Basically you go down a valley on one side, cross the river on a swinging bridge and go up on the other side again. But today we are taking a different route, not the one back to Namche; instead we are going to Khumjung (3790m). Khumjung has a small but pretty monastery that is set up for the god Guru Riupochhe. When we get there it is closed but Gelu asks his way around and finds the woman with the key. She lets us in to take some pictures. The Khumjung monastery does not have a full-time Lama; only on special occasions Lamas show up to celebrate.
From Khumjung it is another 30 min walk to reach Shyangboche - the airport. We stay in the airport lodge - Phinjo Lodge which is run by the same family we stayed with in Lobuche and the same girl that had invited us for tea in Namche one week ago. Gelu brings flowers for her and is very excited (we could see that). We have never seen a Sherpa guy looking so attentively at himself.
At the Phinjo Lodge they also have a pool table, so that is where you can find us. When we come back upstairs the whole family and some friends as well as Gelu's cousin sit around the oven in the living-room. We are invited cordially to join them and drink chhang (rice beer). The group is very outgoing and we get many laughs talking about our trip, about Sherpas and Gelu's girls.
Gelu had promised earlier that tonight we would watch a movie about a tragic expedition to the Mt. Everest. The film is a documentary of the 1970 Japanese Ski Expedition to the Everest. Starting from Kathmandu 800 porters carried 27 tons of equipment to the base camp. It is very interesting to listen to the comments of the Sherpas during the film: "Look, there is my friend.", "Look at the old Namche Bazaar, can you see our house?" And then we see a Sherpa child sitting on the lap of the main character Yiuchiru Miura, a famous Japanese skier with many records on his account. "That is me sitting on his lap, this is my friend Yiuchiru." Says Phinjo Sherpa, "and there is my father on this side."
Wow, Phinjo is like the second main focus in the film. We see how 40 experienced Sherpas try to find a way through the most dangerous part of an Everest ascent: Khumbu Icefall. Suddenly a whole part of the glacier collapses and buries many Sherpas. Six of them are buried and later found dead, amongst them the father of little Phinjo - an unparalleled tragedy. But this should not stop the crazy idea of skiing down the Everest. On May 6, Miura finally skies down about 2 km starting from above the South Col. He uses a parachute to slow himself down at least a little. In the end he falls but is able to come to a complete halt before falling down the bearschlund of the Northern cwm.
To see someone's destiny being so closely connected to a film you are watching together with them is a totally new experience to us.
Quote of the day: "Breathing starts with breathing out." Miura 1970

Day 11, May 18, Saturday

The Potato Day

Again market in Namche Bazaar, but we are not going there today. Our plans take us to Thame monastery (4000m) which is about a 4 hour walk. After the first hour we meet friends of Gelu that are currently building a house. They invite us for tea, so we stay with them in a small but fully equipped kitchen tent and slurp our milk tea. Under the provisionally built stove there was a tiny black cat trying to keep warm close to the fire. At the construction site we are able to leave one of our heavy bags as we will come back this way tomorrow.
On our trek we take lunch in Thamo - at least we try to. Milk tea is the only thing we receive promptly. We have ordered a Rara soup and a potato spring roll. As we hear noise in the kitchen we think they are working - but not quite. After 40 min of waiting I ask Gelu: "For Rara soup you normally take this instant noodle pack I see over there, add boiling water and let it sit for 5 min, right?" "Hmm, right" - and he goes to the kitchen to speak to the woman. Immediately she comes in and takes a pack of instant noodles out of the cupboard. My perfect perception tells me that we have just wasted 40 minutes. Our soups arrive shortly thereafter. So with a little bit of noodles in our belly it is easier to wait the next hour until the potato spring rolls are served. Nepali is like French kitchen - it can take you hours to eat.
In Thame we arrive after 3.5 hours of walking. We find accommodation with a Sherpa who has summited many mountains, amongst them the Mt. Everest. His friend guides us to the monastery 200m higher. Nobody is there, only some people working in the kitchen. All monks are at lunch. All the sudden our Thame native is waving at us: "Come here and sit down!" The monks have invited us for lunch!
25 monks (all lamas) are sitting on two long benches, one monk seems older and wiser that the next and all of them smile at us as we sit down. The Thame guy makes some jokes and everybody is laughing heavily. They offer us potatoes and milk tea that we have to take with them. Everybody looks at how we peal our potatoes. Some of the younger ones talk English and ask us where we were from. Except for some short conversations our native continues his jokes and we do not understand anything. The most fascinating for us right now is this cool monk wearing a North Face jacket and a Nike wool hat.
Later we have a look inside their chapel where all preparations take place for the biggest festival of the year. The highest lamas from Kathmandu will arrive for this. It is scheduled on May 22nd, 4 days from now. The monks have baked many cakes to donate to their gods. Many gifts and donations ornate the temple. "No pictures inside, please", so we take some with the nice monks outside and head down to the lodge again. On the way back I have a deja-vue (Quote of the day): "Now listen Arne - we are going the normal way to the house, Pine that we can't see right now will take a shortcut over the stream but will still be a little slower than us. At the house he will catch up with us. Gelu will take the standard rout and come in behind us." (like magic, the scene happened exactly like this, the prediction lasted for around 20 seconds)
At night we have Sherpa stew (a mixture of everything you can find in a kitchen, especially potato and flour). After that I have plain potato with butter - but not one, not five and not ten potatoes; It is unbelievable - I receive 18 potatoes weighing at least 2 kg. So Gelu, Pine and Arne have to help me. But still, Pine had some leftovers for the next morning.
Later that night Gelu gets some Chhang (Rice beer) for everyone that perfectly distributes the potato stuff inside our stomachs. We start to sing "Resam Piriri" - a Nepali song that Gelu taught us.
When the house owner sees that Gelu is able to read, he passes him a paper, quite familiar to us, that he has to read to him. It is the Maoist paper of the Nepali Army that basically disgraces the Maoists and their leaders and tells everybody to give up resistance. The military measures are illustrated by a nice comic. Outraged, our illiterate host throws the paper in the fire. Goodnight everybody.


Day 12, May 19, Sunday

The Yak Steak

On our way back from Thame (3800m) to Namche (3400m) we really are flying. The thought that there is a satellite internet connection in Namche makes me grow wings because I want to read the emails of my friends and family really bad. I have not heard from them in 12 days now. Instead of 3.5 it only takes us 2 hours.
The internet café costs 10 times as much as in Kathmandu but 12 days away from civilization have been enough. I tell my parents that everything is fine and read my mails eagerly.
Today we stay at a very nice lodge and take our first hot shower in 10 days. It feels like heaven. Putting on fresh clothes with no herb body odor and getting rid of our fatty hair was definitely necessary.
On our walk through Namche we have some sweet baked goods at the German bakery, stroll over the Tibetan market and shoot some pool. What a relaxing day, except for the fact that I sucked in pool. In the evening we get company by some French Canadians from Quebec who climbed a few mountains in the area. They prefer sleeping in their own tents outside and let their Sherpas cook dinner for them. They rather like to stay for themselves. All right, we do not care about that because we have ordered something very special tonight: Yak Steak. To enjoy it do not need anybody around us. How delicious. The steak comes with a brown sauce and potato chips. It is beaten hard so that it appears rather flat; probably that is why it is not chewy when it is well done.

Day 13, May 20, Monday

We have arranged with Gelu that this morning we can sleep in. Somehow Pine does not understand too much of such agreements. At 6:30 am he comes in our room and I really have to discuss with him why this might not be the right time for us. Finally he grants us time until 7:15 when he disturbs us again. Alright little man, you want war, you get it: Today our own packs are even lighter than usual and his big luggage a little bit heavier - but he asked for it!
The lady of the house wanted to help us find one of these state of emergency papers handed out by the army. She even asked the city's police officer but unfortunately nobody had kept one, sorry.
Well, let us go down to Namche center and see if we find some there or if we find at least a cool hat that we can give to Pine. Neither of that should come true but instead we meet many people from earlier days. There is Kevin Mac with whom we played "Hearts" in Lobuche, the French guy who summited Island Peak after being on Gokyo Ri and Kala Pattar, then there is the Sherpa marathon runner (a friend of Gelu's) who came in second in the last 2 years at the Everest Marathon and finally we meet the group of "Adventure Consultants" with our guy from Iceland whose friend has made it on top of the Everest as the only customer of that group. Congrats to him.
We leave Namche with a last look at the ugly Tibetans on the market who always want to sell you some crap. At the last house that usually serves as army control post we do not find any patrol today, but… there is an emergency paper relatively loosely attached to a morose wall. That is my game! I take it and am happy like a little boy.
The way back from Namche to Phakding is unspectacular except for that at the exit of Sagarmatha National Park we meet three guys of the Russian Lhotse Expedition. While we have some tea we congratulate them to the first ascent of the year on this mountain and they are very proud to tell us that all 10 made it - at 6 pm which is extremely late and they got back to base camp at 1 am the next morning. Wow, their colleagues at base camp must have been really afraid for them. The problem was that as first group you have to set every single hook and nobody has prepared a route for you.

Day 14, May 21, Tuesday

The army party

I do not remember the way from Phakding to Lukla that long but somehow it is very exhausting. It takes us almost 2 hours. In Lukla we stay at the Eco Paradise Lodge right across from the airport. A couple of times we see a Russian helicopter land and take off but it is too windy for any planes to come in. In the mornings there is less wind that is why we heard some planes earlier this morning. Today every airline flew to Lukla minimum one time except for Shangri La. They had no plane flying in for the last 3 days. That makes me very afraid. Gelu checks with the airline office and tells us that we will get on the second flight tomorrow (if there is one!).
For lunch we have a big and tasty Dal Bath - which should be decisive for the latter happenings. After extra helpings Arne and I go for a walk to digest our food. We decide to go around the airport, let us see how far the army guards let us go.
We walk down next to the runway only separated by a fence of barbed wire. Two army guys walk behind us and all the sudden they shout: "Hey you two come here - follow us. We are having a party." Huh, are you talking to us? All right, we follow. Let us see where this leads us.
We see a crowd of army guys and are steering directly towards them. First, we are introduced to the commander of the troops. His name is Mr. Shah and he is the boss of the whole region, with 160 armed policemen under his control. They pull up three chairs, two for us, one for the commander. Politically incorrect, I take the middle chair but after some joking he says he does not mind. We have to take a beer (San Miguel) in its 650 ml bottle - we are literally forced into drinking. They serve us like generals. The commander tells us that he is throwing this party to keep up the morale of his men. They put on Nepali music and everybody starts dancing. Also we have to dance, too. Everybody is very amused by our dancing; after a while the music changes to more known tunes like songs from the Vengaboys. Constantly, Arne and I have to drink more beer, taste the sheep they have prepared for lunch along with potato curry, dance and take pictures with everybody. Nirakaram B. Shah, Deputy Superintendent of the Armed Police, tells us that he has been stationed in the Kosovo and working very closely together with the Germans there - he made many German friends. Furthermore, he has two little children, 3 and 6. His six-year-old daughter is in her first year of English school in Kathmandu. Most of his people, 130, are used to defend Lukla airport and so far they did not have any encounters with Maoists.
There we sit, being served by his boys and we all have a hell of a time. Next to us sits the third non-army person, a lama friend of his who has brought him an important letter.
The second San Miguel goes down even better than the first one. Then Mr. Shah calls for "appell". All soldiers hustle together and follow the instructions of one of the sergeants. We count three rows of people, 50 or 60 in total, the rest is on duty. When everybody is on position he calls us to open lunch. Following his order we walk past the rows of men, wash our hands together with him and receive our third lunch of the day (remember, the 1st one was Dal Bath at the lodge, the 2nd was that we had to try their cooking all the time).
We sit down with him on his table and try to eat very slowly. At the same time we try not to look too saturated. After everybody had eaten we politely excuse ourselves and exchange many cordialities. Then we are allowed to go home again. In total we probably had to say "Thank you, good bye" to a minimum of 30 people. We had fun, the army guys had fun with us and we have something to recount at home - that is unbeatable.
In the evening we shoot some pool and meet many people desperately waiting to get on one of the promised flights for tomorrow. At the billiards bar we meet an American who suffered from cancer, recovered and now has just summited the Everest. His name is Sean Swarner and this achievement will probably get him into the Guinness book of records - his pool game certainly will not.

Day 15, May 22, Wednesday

In the morning we hear a plane coming in. Everybody runs outside to see which airline this is. Yippie, Shangri La, their first flight just arrived. We pack our stuff hoping that this plane would come back a second time. The next flight should be ours. And indeed, we have the biggest luck possible. After three days without any Shangri La flights to Kathmandu, this plane comes back after two hours and takes us home safely.