Archive for the ‘Himalaya’ Tag

The Path   4 comments

The Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

The Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

A worthy theme for this week, Photo Challenge: Path, so here goes.  Paths can be literal or figurative.  Each time I find myself on nature’s path the figurative comes to mind.  It is easiest to be present on the path I’m on and not elsewhere, possibly on another’s path.  It’s easiest to stay in this time and place for long enough to appreciate it before charging off to another place.  The constant need to move forward is not something that is easily avoidable, being human after all.  But I tire of the race sooner than many others do.  I don’t relish it as some do.  What I do relish is the feeling of climbing upward and outward into the world, and the contrasts of the descent off the mountain, and of the path home.

Have a happy New Year!

A path through the tall trees: Humboldt Redwoods, California.

A path through the tall trees: Humboldt Redwoods, California.

 

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Guadalupe Mtns., TX

 

The path down to Gokyo Ri, Nepal.

The path home:  Gokyo Ri, Nepal.

Respecting the Sherpa   19 comments

Stupa and Ama Dablam:  Khumbu, Nepal

Stupa and Ama Dablam: Khumbu, Nepal.  Click on pictures to see and download high-res. versions.

A Chinese climber has apparently climbed Mt. Everest from the Nepal side, the first to do it since a tragic avalanche last month killed 16 climbing Sherpas.  The avalanche occurred on the notorious Khumbu Icefall portion of the main route on Everest.  After the accident, Sherpas all agreed to go home and grieve for their fallen comrades instead of continuing to work.  All the companies guiding climbers withdrew out of respect for the Sherpas’ decision.  The Chinese woman used Sherpas contracted privately.

She also reportedly used a helicopter to leapfrog the Icefall.  She maintains that only her cook and other staff were flown to Camp II.  If she is lying about that then she breached climbing etiquette big time.  Most climbers would not consider her summit of Everest genuine.  It just would not count.  But that is a minor quibble compared to the main question.  Should she have climbed at all, at least from the Nepal side?  What do you think?

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.  The west face is so steep that little snow and ice can stick to it.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

When you trek through the Khumbu region near Everest, as I did in 2010, you have the time to absorb and appreciate Sherpa culture.  Or you do if you’re paying attention.  It helps if you choose to diverge from the main trekking routes, on trails like that running along the east side of Gokyo Valley to Khumjung for example.  The pictures below are from that area.  The little boy lives on that farm with the blue roof and stone fences.  You see more wildlife on trails like this as well (see photo of the tahr below).

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal's HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal’s HImalayas lies in spectacularly rugged country.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

For me this little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest.  He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

This little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest. He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

Khumbu has elements of the past, before Everest became a commodity.  Sherpas are an extremely proud yet humble people.  In fact, the two opposite qualities coexist more gracefully in Sherpas than in any people I’ve come across in my travels.  But Sherpas in the Khumbu are in the midst of change.  Many are making real money while most Nepalis, especially in rural mountainous areas, continue to struggle.  There’s a reason many of the abused workers in Dubai are from Nepal.

This increased wealth has effects both good and bad.  Children are receiving better educations than children ever have in that region.  The negative effects are more subtle.  They mark the slow change (destruction?) of a culture into something more like the developed world.  Homogenization continues across the world, and the Khumbu is one place where some of its earlier stages are very obvious.  I pray that it at least remains roadless.

A trekking Sherpa leads his charge down to Gokyo from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.

A trekking Sherpa and his charge head down to Gokyo Lake from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.  He is on the cell phone making sure there is room in a tea house.

At base camp for Island Peak, night before summit day.  Sherpas hauled these tents.

At base camp for Island Peak the night before summit day. Sherpas hauled these tents.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

While I try my best not to judge the actions of others (the Chinese climber gets to make her own decisions), I believe the decision by the Sherpas at base camp on Everest was the right one.  I think every climber true to the sport should respect that decision.  Either that or climb fast and light without Sherpa support.  While there are plenty of people in the world at a fitness level sufficient to summit Everest, very very few have the ability to do it unsupported by Sherpas.

She did not respect the decision of the climbing Sherpas.  She took the easy way out.  Climbing Sherpas make good money (for Nepal).  It is a competitive job, and there are always plenty of trekking Sherpas who await their chance to get in on the action.  I don’t blame those that hired on with the Chinese woman.  They don’t make the kind of money that climbing Sherpas do.  Most climbing Sherpas can easily afford a season off.  They are working of course, trekking the lower trails instead of climbing.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

The ubiquitous yak.

The ubiquitous yak of the Himalayas.

It’s true that the Chinese climber may have hired Sherpas who disagreed with the majority decision to pull off the mountain.  But I suspect she hired Sherpas who don’t routinely climb on Everest. It would have been a simple thing for her to hire perhaps one climbing Sherpa plus a small team of strong trekking Sherpas, eager for their chance at the “big bucks”.  Was that disrespectful to those mourning for the fallen?  I know what I believe, but I would like to hear your opinions.

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Two Himalayan Tahr descend from the high country in the Khumbu of Nepal.

The setting sun's alpenglow hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal.  Everest is just left out of frame.

Setting sunlight hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal. Everest is just left out of frame.

Nepal and the Himalaya (a return)   1 comment

I traveled back to Nepal for the fall trekking season.  Flying once again into Delhi, this time on Cathay Pacific, I had learned a lesson from my first trip.  On that flight I had done it all in one go from Portland, Oregon to Kathmandu.  Thirty-some hours is entirely too long to be traveling, especially if you can’t sleep on airplanes, like me.  I did fly Singapore across the Pacific, which helped (Or did it? Come to think of it, the beauty of their attendants hurt my chances for sleep).  This is the best airline in the world, and the reasons have to do with service.  The beautiful flight attendants are only part of the story.  But Cathay is no slouch either.  With the length of flight from America to south Asia, it pays to use a quality airline.  I got smart this time around & stopped for the night in Bangkok.  I then spent a few days in India before continuing to Nepal.

Alpenglow highlights the spectacular western face of Nup Tse near Mt Everest in Nepal.

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Upon arrival, I stayed a night in Old Delhi, then hired a taxi for a two-day trip down to Agra to visit the Taj Majal.  This only cost about $100, and I had two guides for two days (try that in the U.S.).  I could have taken the train or a bus and gotten there for about half that price, but we made numerous stops that served to give me a strong feel for the average Indian’s life.  So I think it was a steal of a deal.  The Taj was the Taj, stunning but crowded.  Weeks later, on the way back from Nepal, I visited Calcutta, and I’ve never seen streets so lived in, so dense with humanity.  It was really amazing walking the streets there.

But this post is all to do with Nepal.  When I landed in Kathmandu on a bright beautiful morning, I had a strong feeling of being  back among friends.  I was met by the folks from my chosen guiding company, Himalayan RST, the one I rafted with in the spring of the same year.  But it was more than that: I feel at home in Nepal for some reason.

This time I had over a month in the country, and I was very excited on that morning, being back to see the highest mountains in the world. I spent 3 weeks on a trek and climb in the Khumbu region, home to Everest, and one week hanging around Kathmandu.    By the way, Mt Everest is called Sagarmatha in Nepalese.  I didn’t waste too much time getting started, buying last-minute supplies (including pills for altitude sickness that I ended up not needing).

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Drying chili peppers in Khumjung, a delightful side-trip from Namche Bazaar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the densely packed streets of Thamel, the backpacker haven in Kathmandu, you can find anything related to trekking and touring.  If you wait until you arrive to buy your gear, you will not be charged too much, provided you can bargain.  But the gear will not be of the same quality that you find in the U.S. or western Europe.  Much of it is knocked off of companies like Marmot and North Face.  But there are real items from these companies available too.  It’s a little confusing.  I would recommend bringing most that you need from home, but there’s nothing wrong with supporting the community by buying some things in country.

A small stupa in Nepal’s Himalayan mountains allows Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike a moment of rest and reflection on the trekking trail.

After a delightful chat with Sharada, of Himalayan RST, in a tea garden in Thamel (there are little havens like this all over Thamel), I decided on the so-called “three passes trek”.  I went with this one because it included the big boy, Everest, and because the trek includes trails that are not so popular.  I also decided to take a guide, again since I wanted to explore some relatively untraveled trails.  This is by no means necessary on routes such as the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit.

In fact, on any trek where the route has tea houses to stay in, you can be sure that the route is easy to follow, and that you can always ask which way to go if you are unsure.  On treks where you camp, only go without a guide if you have good maps and have experience backpacking and route-finding in mountainous terrain.  But in any case, it’s a fairly simple matter to trek independently in Nepal.  Regarding altitude, take it slow and allow your body to acclimatize.  I saw quite a few people who did not get very far into their trek before having to turn around because of sickness.  Each person is different in this regard, but everyone benefits from simply taking enough time while ascending.

The 3 passes route takes off from Lukla and follows the Everest Trek to Namche Bazaar.  It then departs the well-worn path and heads west to Thame and on up to 5400-meter Renjo La (La means pass).  Then the route descends to the gorgeous Gokyo Lake and joins a more heavily-traveled route over Cho La.  Then it descends to the Khumbu Valley, rejoining the Everest Trek and on up to Gorak Shep.  From here you can go up to Base Camp or take the hike up to the stunning viewpoint of Kala Pathar.  The final pass, Kongma La, is not heavily traveled.  This will take you over to Dingboche, where you descend past the beautiful Tengboche Monastery and back to Namche.

I did this trek a bit differently (surprise surprise!).  From Gokyo Lake I skipped the well-beaten trail over Cho La in favor of the quiet side of the valley that leads to Gokyo.  We descended from the busy trekking center of Gokyo (where I taught the manager of the tea house all about breakfast burritos) to Phortse, a charming, unpretentious and untouristed Sherpa village.  We saw plenty of wildlife on the way.  In the Himalaya, if you trek the major routes you will most likely not see wildlife.  But if you take any route that is less traveled, your chances shoot way up.

A young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal gives a soulful look.

A cute little Sherpa girl takes a break from her sewing lesson (her mother is behind her) to smile and joke with the foreigner.

 

After staying with a Sherpa family in Phortse, we headed up the Khumbu for the most spectacular alpine view I’ve ever taken in, at Kala Pathar.  I took a chance and hiked to the viewpoint in the afternoon, when clouds would normally obscure the view.  But the weather had been very clear the past couple days, and I figured with everyone heading up in the pre-dawn, that I would, as usual, be different.  I was rewarded with a gorgeous alpenglow on Everest and its neighbors.

Descending from Renjo La into the valley of the stunning Gokyo Lake, Nepal.

I had caught a serious cold.  Staying in teahouses you are exposed to all sorts of germs.  People from all over the world are sharing fairly tight quarters, and dishes are being washed in lukewarm water (water boils at low temps. at this altitude).  Since I was to climb a peak later that week from Chukung, I decided to skip Kongma La and head down the easier way.  I barely made it to Chukung (base camp for the climb), very weak & running a temperature.

I was not able to join the climbing clinic that was held over the next few days, instead resting and downing huge quantities of tea.  I rallied for the climb though, after convincing the guides I could do it (it took my best persuasion).  Island Peak at about 6200 meters (nearly 22,000 feet) is the highest mountain I have ever climbed.  I feel that given proper time for adapting to altitude, and with help from the invaluable climbing Sherpas, I could climb even the bigger peaks of the Himal.  It’s not Everest that stokes my passion but Pumori, an absolutely gorgeous mountain.  This costs some serious coin though.

Some highlights of the trek:

  • The flight in and out of Lukla, the world’s most dangerous airport, was exciting.  The runway is actually laid out on the slanted side of a mountain.
  • I met an older Sherpa along the way, a man from Thame, who has climbed Everest 8 times without oxygen.  His face said it all.  The North Face parka he wore was the most used I’ve ever seen, really the best advertisement for that company you could find.
  • Renjo La and the descent into Gokyo was probably the most spectacular hike I’ve ever done.
  • The hike to Phortse not only had many Himalayan tahr (a mountain sheep), but tons of yaks, beautiful mountain farms, and an intact Sherpa culture.
  • The view from Kala Pathar is unbelievable, several of the world’s highest mountains (including the highest) all in a row.
  • Reaching the top of Island Peak you can see an ocean of Himalayan mountains all around.
  • Tangboche Monastery is one of the most mysterious places I’ve ever been.  We attended evening prayers with the monks, and at dawn I was woken by the mournful sound of the gong echoing through the mountains, calling the monks to prayer (and me to one stunning photograph – see below).

The evening light is beautiful at base camp the night before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

A climber nears the summit of Island Peak, a mountain in the Everest region of Nepal, as the Himalaya stretch away to the horizon in bright early morning

 

I returned to Lukla on a beautiful day (our entire trip was blessed with great weather) and next day I was back in civilization.  Chilling out in Kathmandu with some new-found friends, visiting Boudhanath Stupa, taking walks through the city, and visiting some of Kathmandu’s attractions was very relaxing after three weeks in the mountains.  If you stay in Thamel, you might find like me that you can only take so much of its energy.  It is crowded and there is always something happening.  But it is also not the real Nepal but a sort of tourist village within Kathmandu.

Two Himalayan Tahr descend from the high country in the Khumbu of Nepal.

The great monastery at Tangboche in Nepal’s Khumbu region wakes to a spectacular morning.

 

 

At the end of my stay I traveled up to a place called the Last Resort.  It is a camp about 10 miles from the Tibetan border that offers all kinds of adventure sports.  From whitewater rafting & kayaking to canyoning and bungi jumping, it is basecamp Nepal for adrenaline seekers.  But it’s also a beautiful place to stay and hike to nearby small villages where the people and their culture are relatively untouched by outside influences.  I met some great people there, including a Nepali Gurkha (soldier) now living in Hong Kong who was visiting home.  Later in my trip, he was good enough to show me around the amazing city of Hong Kong.

It sounds cliche to say that I was sad to leave Nepal, but this is one time that I really, really felt that way.  And it is the people of Nepal that made me genuinely feel this.  Next time I would like to trek a more adventurous and remote route through  the Himalaya, perhaps around Kanchenjunga.  Also I would love to raft the Tamur River in eastern Nepal.  I flew out of the country on my way to another adventure through Southeast Asia, part of what ended up to be a three-month trip.  As the Himalaya melted into the distance, becoming indistinguishable from the puffy clouds, I promised myself I would be back to this kingdom of mountains.

The Himalaya (Finally)   Leave a comment

Since I just started blogging not long ago, I am going to start an occasional series on recent travels, where I wrote only for myself.  I don’t journal on my laptop while traveling, only with pen and paper.  I carry a small netbook simply for photos and internet acces while traveling, but the idea of burying myself in a computer for my journal is anathema.  I would much rather sit at a cafe and people watch while writing.  I simply can’t do this when on a computer, plus nearly all screens are unsuitable for outdoors.

Alpenglow on Mount Everest from the 5400-meter high viewpoint of Kala Pathar in Nepal.

I’ve traveled pretty extensively over the past few years, at least for me.  As soon as I got the chance, I went to Nepal.  The Himalayas were at the top of my list.  I just did not want to wait until I was too old to see the highest mountains in the world.  Nepal was the obvious choice, but I went to north India as well.  I actually went twice in one year, once in Spring and once in Autumn.

The great stupa at Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, Nepal, draws Buddhists from all over Asia.

I traveled to Delhi, then to Kathmandu.  An amazingly chaotic and energetic city is Kathmandu, and I loved it.  My favorite was renting a mountain bike and doing a big loop up into the upper valley.  I definitely recommend this way of seeing the other face of the Kathmandu Valley.  It’s not all traffic and movement, as in the city.  The children run after you yelling Namaste! and if you stop they shyly smile and hide behind each other.  Utterly charming.  And such a great ride.  Do it if you find yourself in Kathmandu.

Another must if  you’re in Kathmandu is the pilgrimage site of Boudhanath (image left).  This is a huge stupa (temple) in a suburb of the city.  Just grab a taxi there and prepare to soak up an absolutely amazing atmosphere.  This could be spiritually transformative for you, it’s that powerful.  I’ve been three times, and will never miss it on any future trip to Nepal’s capital.

I stayed in Thamel (of course) and I found a nice little guiding company.  I just clicked with the woman running things in the office.  I still consider her a friend, and very much hope that she will be able to visit the USA someday, where I will be so happy to show her around.  She has been experiencing much trouble getting a visa to visit, since U.S. immigration assume every person from a 3rd world country wants to come to stay.  Even though she has a company, a family, a life in Nepal, they still think she wants to escape.  Amazing!

I arranged a trip with her company, Equator, now called Himalayan RST Expeditions, to head to western Nepal.  I was to spend a week rafting the Karnali, one of the world’s classic river runs.  Then I would visit Royal Bardia National Park.  I first traveled to Pokhara.  My hikes were only dayhikes, no trekking this time.  Also, I rented a motorbike to head into the rural areas around the touristy Pokhara.

Once you get into rural areas, you start running into folks who have walked in to markets from the surrounding countryside.  Back in the foothills of the Himal, where no roads travel, there are small villages of people who subsist on the edge.  They are very poor and very beautiful people.  Many are Muslim, but the majority of Nepalis are Hindu.  Buddhism is also prevalent.

The bus ride out to western Nepal took two days over the worst roads you can imagine.  It was a bone-jarring ride.  If you do this trip, unless you enjoy bus rides from hell, I would fly.  We arrived on the banks of the upper Karnali in the late afternoon.  Villagers joined us in our preparations, but they barely distracted me from the river.  It was utterly gorgeous, a beautiful turquoise color and cold!  The Karnali originates on one of the world’s most sacred mountains, Mount Kailash, in Tibet.  And this water certainly was heavenly.

What a river trip!  Seven glorious days on a river with huge and fun rapids in its upper stretches.  It calms somewhat in the middle stretch, and wildlife is abundant.  The lower part widens out and there are bigger villages.  We had company at most of our riverside camps.  The children were so adorable.  This was only my second encounter with true mountain people (the first in the Andes), and I was amazed at how hard they have to work to survive.  The women especially!  I saw women of short stature carrying huge, heavy loads of firewood on their heads and a baby in their arms.  Tough to do on any terrain, but they were going straight up extremely steep slopes.

A lone farmstead in Nepal’s HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

The effect of these small villages is easy to see.  The entire undergrowth of the surrounding forests iscompletely stripped bare.  The people burn to spur more growth, trying desperately to provide their goats with forage.  The big trees are still intact, thank heavens, but the forest is borderline ugly.  I took hikes every evening after our rafting, and I was the only one of the group to do so.  I will never understand my fellow tourists.  They tend to hang out with other white tourists if at all possible, eschewing real contact with either the local people or with nature.  This of course is a general observation that doesn’t apply to everyone.  But it is true worldwide.

I also visited the Royal Bardia National Park, along with one of my fellow rafters.  The park is very near to the takeout on the Karnali.  This park is beautiful, much more like northern India than Nepal.  It lies on a low, hot plain, and hosts a healthy population of one-horned rhino, elephant, leopard, and best of all, tigers.  I didn’t see the big cat, but I did see the biggest snake I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was a rock python, well over 20 feet long and FAT.  My guide said it was the biggest snake he had ever seen, and he grew up in the area.  It had recently eaten a deer, and that explained its girth.

There was a party our first night at Bardia, and I drank a bit too much wine.  One of the guides, an Indian fellow, was drinking pretty heavily too.  I danced with the local Nepali women, and had a great time.  Later that night, in my tent (I camped in their garden), I was woken by someone unzipping my tent.  I saw the silhouette of a man, and reacted on adrenaline.  I burst out of the tent and caught him by the throat, demanding to know what he wanted.  He either did not or could not speak English.  But he was nonetheless convinced that I did not want any company.

Then, in the middle of the night, I had another visitor.  This time it was the English woman from the rafting trip.  She wanted to take shelter in my tent, because someone had tried to get into her room.  She was pretty sure it was the Indian guide, who had been pursuing her much of the previous day.  She was very frightened, and I let her sleep in my tent.  Next day the manager of the lodge was pretty blase’ about the whole thing.  So I wrote an email to the tour company, and they ended up discontinuing their relationship with that lodge in Bardia.  In this part of the world, women do not have the power they have in the west, and so I felt I had to do some sticking up for her.  It made a big difference, let me tell you.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

So this trip was near its end.  I got stranded for a night in the town of Nepalganj.  I noticed there many men dressed in the peculiar drab green that says “marxist”, and was reminded that this region is often the seat of unrest in the country.  I was the only tourist I saw, and I enjoyed the authentic look at the life of Nepalis.  The people of Nepal are some of the warmest, friendliest and most unaffected folks I’ve ever met.  Though I spent about three weeks there, I felt I did not have enough time to do the country justice, certainly not to take a major trek.  But the rafting trip was definitely the best of my life.  I was to return to Nepal with more time later that year, and that’s the subject for the next post.

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