Out of Thin Air
Trip Start Jun 19, 2005
17Trip End Jun 19, 2006
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After a by-then anticipated delay, in an unnecessarily harsh reminder that budget travelers tend to get what we pay for, and pay for what we get, we were ushered onto the cloud-covered tarmac of Kathmandu's domestic airport to face our latest challenge
The Everest hike is all about elevation. When you fly to Lukla to start the trek your first steps are at almost 11,000 feet, and it's pretty much straight up from there
As we continued our gradual ascent up the valley, the alpine forests began to yield to a more lunar landscape, and soon rock and ice dominated our days. We hiked up a side valley (Chukung) and climbed a, 18,500 foot peak that afforded unbelievable views of the massive glacier that continues to carve this valley, and the sheer cliffs beyond. You never could have guessed as we skipped down the trail that it had taken almost three laborious, breathless hours of sherpa shuffle, the slow-motion pantomime that replaces walking at this altitude, to get up the thing - a tough climb worth every step
As we neared the terminal point of the Khumbu Valley, and prepared to visit Everest Base Camp, we found ourselves with front row seats for the start of the Everest Marathon. This event draws elite Nepali athletes, most of them Everest summiters, and a rowdy bunch of masochistic, philanthropic Brits who, despite obvious disadvantages, lined up beside the local favorites one freezing cold morning and somehow made their way over 26.2 absurd miles to Namche, with all proceeds going to village projects. Temporary hypoxia allowed us for a deluded moment to consider taking part in this madness sometime in the future, but we have since come to our senses and have set our sights on the more realistic and fulfilling challenges of international competitive eating.
Walking on the Khumbu glacier was a highlight, not for the views, which were far better from the vistas of Kala Pattar and Chukung Ri, but for the other-worldly sights and sounds of all the rock and ice. Huge boulders sit suspended on columns of ice while bubbling, gurgling, crackling sounds of indeterminable origin emanate from every direction. Several avalanches tumbled dramatically in the distance, and two helicopters, unable to stay aloft in the anorexic air of base camp, had tumbled as well, sometime in the last year, and like the aforementioned boulders sat suspended improbably on pedestals of ice
Cho La pass is the most direct route to the Gokyo Valley which lies to the west of base camp and the Khumbu glacier. The all-day journey up and over the 18,000 foot plus pass made us feel like we were on expedition, and convinced us that despite all this incredible beauty, we were ready to shower (it had been almost two weeks), eat salad and be warm. In addition, as you can see from the photo of H's salute to Everest, the altitude had begun to take its toll. The environmentally unpleasant effects of H.A.F.E. (high altitude flatulence expulsion) were readily apparent in the lodges, but we were surprised to witness the emergence of heretofore undiscovered malady, H.A.H. High altitude hatred compels its victims to walk behind their husbands compiling detailed lists of his transgressions and foibles, and to share them brutally with him when she caught her breath. These tirades provided temporary relief to the victim, and prolonged suffering for her mate. When she wasn't busy hating Mike, H became convinced that a conspiracy to taint her food with mothballs was afoot
En route back to civilization we enjoyed a couple days on the shores of Gokyo Lake, and one final climb to bask in the panoramic mountain views before heading down the valley. In a matter of days the air became intoxicatingly thick and we were surprised to find out just how much we had missed the trees. After 17 days we again boarded a plane and are now back in the bright lights of Kathmandu, where food tastes good again and H has begun to think that Mike's not so bad after all.
The last 6 weeks in Nepal have been amazing, and we can't wait to return some day. But for now the beach beckons. The tickets we bought a few days ago for Thailand were a great deal, until we learned that the airline had ceased to actually provide service pending payment of its fuel bill. Details. With two freshly printed tickets on a slightly more reputable airline in hand, we are very excited to be heading for the warm sands of Thailand, where we will begin our competitive eating training by consuming mass quantities of curries and phad thai. We plan to spend the holidays there, crash the Smith honeymoon for a night and perhaps hook up with some other friends that we've met along the way before heading for Indonesia, or Burma, or wherever the warm breeze blows us. Namaste for now...