The Wondering Sailor – Mt. Everest, Kathmandu, Nepal, Asia

Everest is what you want to hear about – 13th dawned to protests as we toddled off through deathly quiet streets to the airport – caught our sparrow (Donier 227). This little thing driven by sky cowboys shot off onto the runway screeching round the corners like some V8. It bounded into the sky and spent the rest of the short journey bouncing around the heavens like a demented kangaroo with an ozi farmer throwing lead at its rear end. As we came bucking like a bag of bolts into Lukla, all one could see was this fertiliser length airstrip (looked no more than 150 meters) with a stone wall at the the other end ready to stop a jumbo jet in its tracks. The poor little plane was thrown onto the runway with teeth chattering force screaming its protest in agony. Phew, she went into the parking bay – brakes slammed on and up! No worries – we had landed at Lukla.

Nabaraj and I picked up our rucksacks setting off past military and police checkpoints. We headed down the paved path through rododendrons with green fields of spuds and grain on our port side before the land dropped down into a steep gorge way below, cloaked in densely wooded forest on our starboard quarter. On the bow those snow capped sentinels could be spied far off into the distance. We undulated our way through valleys passing many little stone villages with slate and tin roofs. Two hours later, we reached Phading. The red robed Buddhist monks were next door chanting prayers – trumpets blaring, cymbals crashing and drums sending out their rhythms to the valley below. They went on until 10:00 at night then started again at 4:00 in the morning – a great sound echoing up and down the valley, as it must have for eons.

We met a few people with altitude problems returning back down. Ouch – they looked earthly – probably compounded by the indignity of having a system failure. The meat market came trundling up the valley on the backs of porters – thrown onto the path and cut up to much haggling. Most of the meat traded is either yak or goat. By the time it gets up to these reaches, though, it has lost that red glow and faded into a rich black. I am a vegetarian now. Surprised?

There are only three types of transport systems in this neck of the woods – man, donkeys followed by woolly yaks – all with tinkling bells to warn fellow punters to remove their carcases off the path, or find themselves either lamenated to the rock walls, or bounced into the valley below – both painful and to be avoided.

Namche Bazaar was our next destination – passing through more great country of rhododendrums and cedar forest along charming paths – dropped into a monastery, now this is worth a visit – again the monks were at prayer – on we trundled stopping at a farm house nestled in a cute little valley for a spot of lunch.

Far below us the raging desperate river Koli roared its way through the valley – our ever present companion for many days as we crisscrossed its turbid waters. Down we travelled to the valley floor then up and up – oh – wow, half way up there standing high in the heavens stark and gaunt was Everest with just a powder coating of snow. What a sight, surrounded by its jagged shark toothed companions. Slowly we plodded our way up to Namche our night stay and a day of gathering a few more red blood cells to stave off the dreaded altitude sickness. This place is commercialised to the extreme, no vestige of Nepalese village culture here.

If you are bored, this is the time for a scotch. (Oops, I made an error. That monastery I talked about earlier was at Tengboche – altitude, you know, does odd things!). Onwards and upwards we went passing a few villages perched on hillsides. We reached Dingboche. Here we were surrounded by these massive angry mountains barring their snow covered fangs at us, willing us to come and do battle with them. These are daunting monuments that will dash any mortal soul who dares defie them – unlike the Annapurnas, proud and majestic centinals.

We spent a good night before going up the morain strewn valley to Chuukung. Then we passed the glaciers, returning to Dugiha. Everything is barren and harsh in this area, at a height of 4,900 meters. The bod was going well with no signs of trouble until half way through the night, when rumblings started. It was like some fermentation tank gone burserk – yup, I had the trotts. I popped a few pills plus a binder that fixed any toilet problems for three days, saving paper too!

Snow started to fall that evening. By morning all was transformed into this incredible winter wonderland. Four porters and us took off in this swirling snowscape- up the hill – trying to find a path that had long since been obliterated. We took turns blazing a trail through the pass – if you got it wrong, you sunk to your waist .

Yaks roamed. They looked similar to white shaggy bears with icicles dripping down, tinkling like wind
charms. We plodded across the path with 30 to 40 knot winds, bringing visibility down to 20 meters at times – we were considered mad. As I said before, this life is for the brave and adventurous.

We crossed a small river and met some porters from the other direction who advised us to stay at the lodge by the stream. We lunched and considered their advice before proceeding to the morain. I took off my glasses (yes, I had shades on!) to see the faint path left by the porters since Nabaraj kept falling into drifts. Finally we reached Lobuje. What an incredible day we had mucking around in the snow – amazing and definitely challenging.

What a place. What grandeur. What pristine magic. My adrenaline was on high. Nabaraj was not too keen on going any further the next morning, so I made a deal – if I could find some hardy souls, we would carry on. Six were willing. Still, the snow fell. Some guides didn't think we could make it. As it turned out, we had far less trouble than the previous day. We kept to the port side of the glaciated valley until we
reached Gorak Shep.

The weather had cleared, well nearly. There was only the odd flurry by this time. We decided to pop up to Everest base camp. Keeping the glacier to starboard, we meandered our way up, finally crossing the glacier to the camp.

Have you seen 500-ton rocks perched on top of ice pinnacles? It's a jumble of ridges. And in all of this, there was a crashed Russian helicopter, just outside of base camp at a height of 5,400 meters. This place was a huge tent city festooned in prayer flags.

Next day we went on up to Kal Pattar, 5,500 meters – a tough hill. Lack of oxygen and steepness made slow progress. My lungs were bursting. My heart was looking for another home. Phew. After one and a half hours, we reached the top. Mt. Everest in all its glory! What a joke – a cloud had shrouded its rugged head!

Down we went, to start our return trip to Luckla – quite different. Where there had been no snow before, now it was dripping off trees, rocks and down the river valley. What stunning beauty! Nature had a change of costume. In some places the path was very icy. In others areas, the path had turned to slush and mud.

The flight to Kathmandu was perfect, after we dropped off the end of the runway with a woosh and the props screaming to claw our little bird high into the sky. On arrival at Katmandu, our jockey threw our beastie down onto the runway like a bag of spuds. Then he screeched around the airport taking the corners on two wheels before coming to a grinding halt – leaving everyone gasping with wonder!



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