Monday, September 2, 2013


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Sunday, January 13, 2013

An Added Bonus

Published? On Amazon? Who Me?

Special thanks to Marilyn Black for introducing me to Gaye Mack  ( who introduced my blog to April M. Williams (

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Clearing a few things up...

Several people have asked me if I'm happy to be healthy again, now that I'm back. Although the cough is still lingering, it is not unexpected that it''ll be around for a few more weeks. I tend to believe that people do not fully realize the extent of my Everest obsession. I knew exactly how sick I could be on the trip.
Since reading Into Thin Air, I have probably read every book or magazine article that was ever published related to the 1996 Everest disaster. Has to be well into the hundreds...I have seen every film and documentary too, multiple times. Ive looked at so many photos online and read so many mountaineering and trekking blogs and journals that I know far too much about Everest and trekking to base camp than any sane person ought to know. It was like hiking in a world that I, in some capacity, had visited before. I fully expected that I would be extremely sick somewhere along the way, whether it was due to poor sanitation or the climate. The mountains are unforgiving, they do not care who you are, how much your trip is costing you, or what your health history is. Have I mentioned that before? Altitude sickness can strike anyone, even someone who has a lot of mountain experience, even after never having any symptoms on any previous trips. As you ascend and begin to feel unwell, your mind can't help but wonder what it will progress into. The rescue helicopters that break the silence during the day are a constant reminder that you are not in control in this environment. When you get above 10,000 ft., nothing heals, either. So if you have a slight cold or a headache at lower altitude? Its not going to get better in a few days. Again, you expect and prepare for the worst but hope for the best. You can take care of yourself by being in good physical condition, hydrating, consuming lots of calories, using a buff to cover your mouth, climbing slow and acclimatizing as needed, but luck is still a huge factor. I absolutely knew the possibilities and expected every symptom that would happen along the way to people in our group. The insomnia was somewhat worse than I anticipated. But certainly not unexpected. Its challenging to be physically exhausted, losing brain cells at 17,000 feet and climbing for 6-7 hours a day on only 2-3 hours of sleep, fighting bronchitis. But to have escaped with ONLY bronchitis and insomnia while capturing my dream? I am a lucky, lucky girl.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Missing Nepal, aka The Turn-Around Time Is Quicker Than Childbirth

I do love my 5:30 a.m. Spin class at the gym! Love, love, love the energetic instructor Leslie. But when she screamed at the class to put our heads down and just CLIMB! I had to laugh, Climb. I've been doing that a lot lately! And then she said, BREATHE! and I chuckled. Yes, breathing is very, very important, I recently had that idea reinforced somewhere. It seems that no matter what is happening to me during the day that I am relating it to something that happened on my trip. Watching the entitled suburban drivers on the highways here made me think of how the Nepali drivers are actually very patient. Granted, it's a game of Frogger when you try to cross the street in Kathmandu, but they are patient and kind people, even as drivers, and when you start to cross the intersections, they stop for you to scurry pass. The only rule is "don't make any sudden moves". I'll try to find an instructional video on Youtube that shows you...
I'm missing lots of things about Nepal this week. Its similar to childbirth where right afterwards, you swear youll never do it again, but then you gradually reconsider. At the Rum Doodle we talked about how much money someone would have to pay us to make us turn around the next day and do the trek again. I said $5,000. By the time I got back to the United States, it was just someone paying for my trip. This week? Its almost as if I should contacting Mountain Madness to see when the next group is leaving and if there's space for me. And maybe I'd like to go higher this time! Ahh, how soon we forget...
There, I was a person in the midst of the quiet mountains. No traffic, no media, no obligations, no nothing. Just me and my dream. I could hear the stones crunch under my boot with each step and I listened to myself breathe into the fabric around my neck that kept the dust out. The noisiest thing I can think of was a passing yak's bell or someone coughing in the next bed. Here it is sensory overload everywhere I turn.
I can't seem to make my Milk Tea the same as RamKaji did for me every morning. I miss Sila's inquiry of "Pleeze, Milk?" at breakfast.
I miss mindlessly picking up my heavy pack and throwing it on my shoulders and just walking, walking, walking...
I miss the string of "Namaste" greetings we get from people we pass on the trail.
I miss the friends and the laughs we shared along the way.


"There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, 'Yes, Ive got dreams, of course I've got dreams.' Then they put that box away and bring it out once in awhile to look in it, and yep, they're still there." --Erma Bombeck

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Prayer Flags on the Playset

Tibetan prayer flags we had blessed by the lama in Tengboche


Maybe its best summed up by Sir George Leigh Mallory who actually summited Mt. Everest...
"So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle of life itself is forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for".

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Timing is everything...

2500 trekkers are currently stranded in Lukla, Nepal because bad weather has not allowed flights in or out!

Friday, November 4, 2011

One thing I should've packed but didn't

The kid, not the football

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sunsets at home are almost as nice

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Tea Time in the Himalayas

Found the hot chocolate in the imports section. Almost as good as when the sherpas make it in Nepal! Now...if I could only find my other friend...Nusco Duo.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Out my window in Namche Bazaar

One of my favorite photos from my Blackberry
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Check out these links!

My friend Chris got his very own article!

And, my friend Jon has an awesome blog from our trip with some spectacular photos.
Even a photo of me smiling!

All you really need in life is oxygen, water and some chapstick with a high SPF

"The lust for comfort murders the passions of the soul." --Khalil Gibran

After my face cracked, peeled and bled at 18,000 feet from blowing my nose too much and being exposed to the elements, it's finally healing. I keep examining my skin in the mirror and I'm pretty sure its never looked better. Or felt softer. Is it because I'm back in the land of moisture content? Or does it feel that way because its been hidden under layers of clothing for weeks and I just have forgotten what skin feels like? Either way, I'm fascinated. Getting up for work today, the house was set at a balmy 64 degrees. It felt like an Alabama summer afternoon in the bedroom. As I waited for the shower to heat up (!), I realized that I was about to get in and I wasn't even shivering. This is how a shower at 16,000 feet (highest elevation that I took a shower) goes: Dangle your soap and camp towel from a rusty hook, take off all of your fleece, leave on your flip flops, ready, go! The warm water trickles out from a small tube attached to a barrel on the roof. You race to scrub every inch of yourself as fast as you can so you can get a once over of a rinse before your teeth start to chatter. You try not to look down at the "shower floor" because its so disgusting. And oh my God, you're wearing the same flip flops you trudge to the squat toilet in every night, the same toilet that people routinely "miss", ahem... You try to get re-dressed while standing on one leg so as not to get your "clean" pants wet from touching the ground. In the end you don't care because you've "cleaned" the top layer of grime away. There are no mirrors anywhere to see yourself anyway. Your beauty regimen consists of slathering the face and ears with SPF 50. Or REI GLUE as some called it. No need to pluck the eyebrows or even check them...nothing grows at this altitude anyway. It's funny that during the trip I once wore my winter hat for 3 days straight, even to sleep. When I took it off, my hair was a matted rats nest, so I just put the hat back on again. When we finally got back to the Yak and Yeti in Kathmandu I think many of us were shocked at our reflection in the mirror. All of the guys on the trip had full beards by the time we returned. We'd all lost a ton of weight. When we finally came down to dinner, it was like seeing a whole new group of people. The women all had makeup on and blow dried hair. The men had all shaved. We all had a previoiusly unseen set of clean clothes on! Thank God for the small things in life.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Arrival back home

I lucked out and had a whole row to myself on the flight from Seoul to Chicago. Directly across the aisle from the 3 year old who played with the on/off lightswitch and call button for the flight attendant the entire 14 hours. Landing in Chicago and breezing through immigration/customs, I was home by noon.
Seeing my kids for the first time in a month was sweet! Laying down for a nap an hour later was almost as sweet.... I meant to rest for a few hours but it turned into 6. Then I got up and ate some leftover sushi and then went back to bed for another 7 hours. Curiously, the first things I ate when I got home from the airport were a goat cheese/chicken salad and some Hostess powdered donuts (?!) Nothing like going to the store on an empty stomach. The house was clean and warm, my bed was soft--like an exaggerated-sensory-experience softness. Looking around, everything seemed like it was in excess: taking a shower suddenly involved a choice of 3 shampoos and 4 conditioners, not a bucket of cold water and some Dial soap. I had 3 blankets and 2 pillows, none of which I was worried about getting lice from! When I got OUT of bed, I wasn't damp and shivering--I wandered into a huge closet full of clothes. Emptying my bags into the laundry room, the first load was whites and lights, on HOT with a big cup of BLEACH. Followed by a second washing of the same load on HOT again, this time with OXYCLEAN. There were very few items that I did not use: my balaclava, an extra bandana, and some mittens...thats about it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Seoul Airport Transit Hotel

A picture of my hotel room at Seoul Incheon Airport. It's IN the airport- you do not have to even go thru immigration/customs if you have a boarding pass for your connecting flight. Its within the secured area and the room's window overlooks the Departure counters. The room is bigger than the tea lodge rooms we shared. Oh, and clean! Its almost midnight and walking around this huge airport that's currently empty is eery. Soon enough it'll be packed, though. The flight from Kathmandu went relatively quick. 3 glasses of wine, 2 stupid movies, and a few chapters in the book. Now, to get some sleep before the 14 hour flight....
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Last night was spent eating "real food" again. And drinking beer...Everest beer, of course.
The Yak and Yeti hotel is crowded with trekkers coming and going on all sorts or Himalayan hikes, the bar is crowded with a diverse group--young fit people all the way to the old group of travellers who are wearing freshly purchased shirts from the Magellan catalog and matching fanny packs. And then there is our ragtag group of people in their 20's all the way to their 70's, all feeling we have earned the right to be a little loud with our story telling. Everything from the trek is much funnier after several beers.
The festival of Tihar continues today in the city. We may take a stroll to Durbar Square and then later have lunch at the Rum Doodle, a must-visit place in the city:

Lonely Planet review for Rum Doodle Restaurant & Bar

Named after the world’s highest mountain, the 40,000½ft Mt Rum Doodle (according to WE Bowman, author of The Ascent of Rum Doodle, a spoof of serious mountaineering books), this famous bar is still milking a dusty (1983!) Time magazine accolade as ‘one of the world’s best bars’. It’s long been a favourite meeting place for mountaineering expeditions – Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner, Ang Rita Sherpa and Rob Hall have left their mark on the walls – and a visit here feels like a bit of a pilgrimage for mountain lovers. Trekking groups can add their own yeti footprint trek report to the dozens plastered on the walls. The restaurant serves up decent steaks, pasta and pizza and there’s often live music. You can eat here free for life – the only catch is that you have to conquer Everest first!
DURBAR SQUARE- The streets leading up to Durbar Square were massively over-crowded and over-stimulating. I begged someone to accompany me to this must-see UNESCO Worl Heritage site, and Jon graciously agreed to be my escort even though he had already been there when we were in Kathmandu three weeks ago. Thank God I was not alone! Wow-the streets are a noisy maze and the powerful smell of incense and colors of Tihar overwhelmed my senses. I didn't feel unsafe, like afraid of being pickpocketed, but I felt like if I make one wrong turn I might be swallowed up by the city and lost forever. We met up with Andy, Abby, Steve, and Derek at the Rum Doodle, and, as is customary for all trekkers to Everest, left our decorated and signed Yeti print hanging over the patio!

Back in Kathmandu

5 am wakeup today with packed bags by 545. As usual, RamKaji and Sila (photo) gave the wakeup knock on the door with our morning tea. Our big duffels headed across the street to the Lukla Airport and we had porridge and toast for breakfast. Our team was on the first flight out on Tara Air at 7am. At Lukla departures, you wait in a tiny room until the guard calls your flight and everyone piles out on to the tarmac. As the flight unloads from Kathmandu, the bags are hauled away and our group is told to hurry onto the plane. The turnaround time for the landing flight, exiting, and then us boarding the same plane for takeoff was less than ten minutes. The reason this is done is that there are many many flights rolling in every few minutes bringing trekkers to the region. The window is short because the weather tends to cloud up by 1pm or so. It is an amazing feat to see passengers and baggage haulers moving so fast. The plane literally rolls off the hillside to take flight. 35 minutes later we were back to the noise of Kathmandu. We have not seen vehicles the entire time we were trekking--because there are none. Everything is done on foot. There are no roads. It is not even 8am yet and the streets are flooded with people. It is a festival week here and so many shops are open early selling strung marigold necklaces, sweets, figs, noisemakers, etc. for the celebration. We arrive back at the Yak and Yeti hotel alert but exhausted. We find some coffee and lychee juice and wait for our rooms for 2 hours. Afterall, no one has checked out yet because its so early. When we finally get our assigned rooms, we shower with all of the hot water in Kathmandu! I think I spent 30 minutes showering, shaving my legs, conditioning my hair, moisturizing my face, and putting on makeup. It's about 80 here today with a nice breeze so its a great feeling not to have a hat and fleece on in the room. And to have a western toilet in the room too! We are all obsessed with the bathroom situation at this point, every meal's conversation revolves around squat toilets and rating how bad each of the lodges' facilities were. I root around for a clean short sleeved shirt and some lighter pants. At noon, we head into the lively tourist district of Thamel, which is akin to a bustling Chinatown type environment. Curiously we eat at a place called Roadhouse which serves woodfired pizza and NO yak cheese. The group is happy to pig out, even getting dessert and drinks. Abby and Andy are with us again which is exciting. He is doing well after the helicopter evacuation. He looks thin, but rested now. He has been going to the clinic everyday for a checkup and his sats are back to normal. His diagnosis was a combination of HAPE and HACE. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema/Cerebral Edema. We split up after lunch for some shopping and wandering. Some of us even took a personalized interactive tour of the US embassy security area. Apparently videoing the traffic jam near the embassy is frowned upon. In fact, it actually buys you an hour with Embassy officials who review your camera photos and videos and take down personal information about you. There are even two way mirrors. Let's just say I wasn't the only one involved and in the end we are all fine and didnt lose our cameras or photos of Everest. Never a dull moment....

Monday, October 24, 2011

Farewell dinner in Kathmandu

Im not sure why this one posted out of order but it is an awful photo from our dinner last night. Steak and champagne were the highlights! Funny stories, laughing, toasts...our most relaxed evening yet. Sagar, one of the coordinators from the local Mountain Madness offfice joined us. He had lots of good stories from past treks and expeditions... Yesterday during the day was spent picking up last minute gifts and touring the city. We headed to Durbar Square and lunched at the famous Rum Doodle where we left our signed Yeti print hanging on the ceiling in the patio area (see other post from Durbar Square). Wandered back through the chaos of Thamel and relaxed for the rest of the day.Today we all depart at different times for different connections throughout the world- Bahrain, Doha, London, Seoul, Hong Kong....Everyone is looking forward to being home but it will be another day and a half before we all arrive there.
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Leaving Lukla

Take off and landing can be found here:

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

A nice thank you from the Sherpas!!

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Gambling with the staff

Celebrating our descent to Lukla. We shared a meal with the entire staff and presented them with their gratuities. Later in the evening we toasted with a little moonshine-- "Roxy" as its known. Or gasoline, as it tasted.... And then we dueled with singing---Nepalis first, then countered with an American song...I wish I had video of the closing production of everyone doing the Hokey Pokey.

As far as tips and money go...the head sherpa guide in the group makes probably less than $10 a day (a fair wage here, even a little above average), but most of their earnings come from client tips. His total payment for 14 days with us was about $800. Some of cook staff and porters make as little as $250 for those 14 days. They sleep in cold tents, they rise early, they attend to clients every request and yet they are very grateful for this opportunity to work with Mountain Madness because being part of a trekking staff is a lucrative position.

A fun part of the evening was bequeathing some of our unwanted gear to the guides and staff. We all put our unwanted gear (coats, shoes, boots, sunglasses, waterbottles, socks, hats, etc) in a pile and there was a lottery system and each staff member "won" 2 items. The look on their faces when they received a coat or sunglasses worth a few hundred dollars....its just so hard to reconcile that with the way we consume so much here in the US.
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I told you so!

Its not an actual franchise, checkout the mountain in the logo. But the latte was good!
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I told you so!

Ok its not actually an authorized franchise. Check out the mountain in its logo: Its Ama Dablam! In protest, I wasn't actually going to visit this Starbucks, but since it's not a "real" one, and I reallllly needed to indulge, I went in.

It took us 7 hours to walk down from Namche Bazaar to Lukla, the starting/ending point of the trip. The last 40 minutes of the whole trek is uphill (OF COURSE!!!!!!!!!!). We laughed the whole way down about the idiot trekkers in clean clothes we kept passing coming up the mountain! How naive they were to be smiling like that! Giggling at how refreshed they looked when in just a few days they'd be beaten and worn!!

Walking through the city gates at Lukla felt like finishing an Ironman. Or 100 of them. An amazing feeling of personal accomplishment and physical exhaustion. It is hard to put into words what we all felt at the finish line but our common goal of visiting Everest Base Camp will bind us forever.

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Marigolds blooming in Phakding

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Phortse to Namche

Last night was pretty cold for being at a lower altitude and I shivered most of the night. Our room had frosted over by the morning. It was one of my least favorite teahouses, the walls may have well been fabric. Still, I had a bed, right? I DID get a chance to talk to the boys for a few minutes before their game. Happy :)) Some of the clients played dice and Uno with the Sherpas. Our main guide Deanna teaches us Nepali phrases and short stories about the history and government of Nepal. She came here at 28 with the Peace Corps. Chris and Katie tried to teach the Sherpas how to play Bullshit but only half of them got it. First they called it "Yak Shit" but then one of the staff seemed uneasy so they changed the game to "I doubt it". I'm still laughing about that.

I'm still really congested and this cold is kicking my a**. Last night in Phortse (the village in the above photo) a few of us tried menthol and steam inhalation stuff for some relief...nope. It's an evil formula called SANCHO. Really strong, thought it would for sure work. I coughed all night long and have a wicked sore throat still. I'm a total snot factory. Combine that with the lack of sleep and it just made this morning difficult. Oh, that and the 90 minute uphill climb right out of the starting gate. I get it: GREAT VIEWS!! But I'd rather be walking downhill at this point. Granted, tackling the ascent at this altitude is better than at 17, 000 feet. At least I don't have to stop and catch my breath. I just walk really slow. We are all thankful when we have to stop for the yaks to go by so we can catch our breath (dirty little secret!). When I made it to the top, I think it was called Mong La, it was one of the most glorious views on the whole trek...felt like I had a 360 degree view of the Himalayas. I had to go to the bathroom so bad by the time I got to the top, I accidentally set my pack down in a bit of yak dung. Which got on my strap. Which touched my pants. So I had to unleash some swear words. I shed a layer of long underwear,had some water and started the 2 hour descent to lunch. Since I am eating less and less, I'm starving by 10am (like I can hear my stomach gurgling with every step) and I am tiring of trail mix and power bars. And cough drops. And water. Lunch was just ok, I managed to eat some tuna fish (gag, I know. But I need the protein) And some flat bread smeared with peanut butter. Just before we left lunch in the little village, I paid for a Snickers bar and chowed it in 5 minutes. Man, what a difference that made in my disposition! I crave peanut M and M's and Doritos too. But, nowhere to be found. Besides a small incline of 15 minutes, the trail after lunch back to Namche followed the contour of the mountain around to the village at a fairly level state. I spent the afternoon talking to Jon and the twins about food banking and religion. We also had our last views of Everest, which saddened all of us. Today we were fast hikers and arrived at our destination by 2pm instead of the targeted 3pm. We are staying in the same teahouse as when we came through Namche on the ascent. Remember?? Hotel Camp de Base. Hot shower and flushable toilets IN THE ROOM. Namche Bazaar just has a happy air about it. Here it is warm enough for a light fleece jacket tonight while walking the alleyways between shops, but I will be in several layers in my sleeping bag and the room will be crisp and cool by 9pm. We had tea in the kitchen and discussed Middle East Politics before heading out to the internet cafe. The sun is shining and the town is bustling and the air is thicker here. All of this together puts us in a joyous mood. We are happy to come to mealtime to talk about the day and show our photos to each other. There is a sense of accomplishment for having reached Base Camp even though at times things were less than desirable. But we laugh about the funny things that happened higher up on the mountain and we marvel at the scenery some more. It is phenomenal and breathtaking around every corner. After dinner we all head to the room Katie and I share to divide up our money for tips for the staff. Nepalese rupees seem like Monopoly money and we have stacks and stacks of it in different piles all over the room. Steve has graciously agreed to be the "treasurer" and did a fantastic job. Tomorrow is spent descending all the way down to Lukla where we started the trek. It will most likely take 8 hours. We will have a party with the staff and give them their tips and any gear we no longer want. Every day from dawn til dusk, they bust their butts for us. It is amazing. Being on a trekking staff is a very desirable position for young Nepali men. The ANNUAL per capita income for Nepalis is less than $1,000. Some of our staff live in brick huts with tin roofs and mud floors. One of them had damage to his home in a recent earthquake and it is mostly uninhabitable. They are very simple, very happy, and very gracious. It has been enjoyable to interact with them on the trail and at mealtimes.

Our last night will be in Lukla and the next morning take a 7am flight to Kathmandu and leave the mountains behind.

Good Night Himalayas!

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

American Nepali combo dinner

Yak steak, bok choy, pizza and fries.
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Phortse Prawn Crackers

Kind of like pork rinds. Umm interesting taste. Tonight they are accompanying tomato soup.
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Nepali Flats

Nepali Flats is the term our guide uses when describing a hilly climb..uppppppp....downnnnnn....upppppp....downnn...Im not sure there was even one remotely flat part about any of the trail to base camp. The thing about the EBC trek is that the trail usually descends sharply to the river before crossing it on a bridge and then ascending steeply again and then "flattening" out as a slight incline for a few feet before more up and downs. Today's descent to Phortse was 6 or 7 hours and yet we only had a net descent of 1000 feet! Tomorrow we have a 500 ft ascent (close to an hour) just after the river (the Dudh Khosi, which means Milk River bc of its white-ish-ness which is colored by the sediment from the glaciers) and will finally descend another 2000 feet or so. Phortse is a quaint village built into a hillside and protected by mountains on all sides. It is home to a training area for sherpas who want to lead expeditions. By far, it is one of the most unique places to live that I have ever come across when viewed from above. Yet when you get down to the level of the town, most of the villages we come across are starting to look the same. That's how I know I'm more than ready to be done with the trek. That, and I'm getting a blister. Oh, and I'm tiring of wearing the same filthy clothes. And I'm getting tired of Nepali food. Last night we snacked on sour cream and onion pringles, toblerone, and orange fanta, to the tune of $15. No one dares drink alcohol yet because of how sick we all are and how the altitude affects alcohol processing. Don't take any of this as complaining. I am tired, yes, but the views and camraderie far outweigh any other feeling I have. I am standing in the best place in the entire universe. I am still in awe every moment of the day.
Everyone's wish right now is to get a good night sleep. Diamox is a diuretic so most of us are up every two hours for a bathroom break. Half of us have a respiratory infection or cough (got to laugh at the communal nose-blowing sessions we have before meal times!) Some have blisters or twisted ankles. Despite what we've been through, it is nothing in the grand scheme of the trip. We ooh and ahh around every corner. We manage to laugh a lot at dinner and downtime. We share chargers, books, snacks, cameras, meds, and gear. No one is grating on anyone's nerves (not even mine), and there's been only a handful of swear words thrown out in 2 weeks. Ok, so I contributed my first one today. An F bomb when I rounded another corner and saw yet another 30 minute uphill climb. I blame it on low blood sugar.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

And then there were 11...

As if I still had an inkling of desire left to return to Everest someday, it disappeared completely yesterday on our descent from Gorak Shep, which by the way, is the biggest shithole on Earth. More on that later. The winds began howling at 8pm and it started to snow. Its the Himalayas afterall, but still, we've had 10 days of glorious weather. Leaving after choking down a hard boiled egg and some oatmeal, we hit the snowy trail at 8am. What was supposed to take 4 hrs and be our easiest day, easily took 7 hours in 20 degree weather and 30mph winds. I had 6 layers of clothes on and was warm except my fingers. But the blinding sleet was relentless and made every step precarious. We descended almost 3000 feet in slippery conditions with no place to take shelter. We were relieved to make it to Pheriche (photo) which had a decent lodge (read: indoor western toliets). So what if the stove was still heated by dry yak dung, we were warm. What made the day even more stressful was that another one of the group members developed extreme altitude sickness and needed to be evacuated. Since the weather was bad, he had to go down on horseback. He couldn't even stand or make a sentence. The only remedy for this, in order not to die, is immediate descent. You can't even imagine what his trip must've been like. His wife accompanied him in the blizzard, with a guide. This morning the weather cleared for a few hours and he was evacuated back to Kathmandu by helicopter.
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Gorak Shep to Base Camp. We made it!!

After a grueling 3 hour hike from the teahouse in Gorak Shep (photos) in windy 30 degree weather, we made it to Everest Base Camp around 10:30am today. A cold and desolate spot, but we were all so happy to have made it. We took photos, left mementos, and hung prayer flags with the sherpas. It was quite emotional. There is currently only 1 expedition at base camp since it is the off season. The ice fall is spectacular and dangerous looking. We walked across the Khumbu glacier to get to the base camp marker, a gigantic rock with words scribbled on it with a black Sharpie. You can not see Everest from her base camp so we took pictures along the way and also some yesterday on a viewpoint on Kala Pattar which is nearly 18,500 ft at the summit. (Group photo from Kala Pattar, Everest is the dark granite peak to the left of center).

*******Gorak Shep is the last stop before base camp-one of the most awful places on Earth- but then again you do not have much of a choice with your accomodations at this elevation. We stayed at one of the nicer (and I use that term loosely) teahouses, yet it had moldy walls that weren't exactly closed off to the exterior elements (photo), dirt floors, and overflowing squat toilets. You wanted to barf just walking down the hall towards them. *The photos above of the squat toilet are not from our lodge. The ones pictured are much, much nicer-it's not soaking wet and/or icy with overflowing human waste like the ones we saw/used. Chris nicknamed Gorak Shep "Satan's Rectum" and I find that to be an excellent description. Oh, and in case you didn't want to brush your teeth outside, as is customary, the teahouse provided a sink between the two toilets. Yum! *******
I did not go higher than 18,000 because of my respiratory infection. My roommate had such severe altitude symptoms in the middle of the night -severe headache, vomitting, dizziness, inability to eat- that they had to give her oxygen several times. The guide and sherpas administered the oxygen from the typical cannisters with mouth piece that are used at altitude. By morning, she was slightly improved but not allowed to ascend to basecamp with the rest of the group. We took her prayer flags, though and had the sherpas string them at the base camp marker, and then photographed it for her. She is in OK spirits today and descending to Pheriche this morning for a re-evaluation and may possibly join us when we descend to Namche again in 2 days. She had previously been one of the healthiest and strongest hikers in the group. It was a scary night. The 2 people in their 70s made it to basecamp without problems other than assistance with their backpacks. Impressive. By the way, here ends any desire I have to actually climb Everest to the summit. I'm physically exhausted, I'm cold all day and night, I'm dehydrated and sunburned, I've inhaled too much yak dung smoke, I loathe the outdoor hole in the ground for bathroom time, and my lungs are screaming. And Everest's summit is still almost 12,000 ft above basecamp!
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Scare in Lobuche

So I waited to post this one until I was actually home so as not to alarm anyone. What started out as one of my best days of trekking ended up scaring the shit out of me by bedtime.

After our acclimatization days in Dingboche, we set off on the path to Lobuche on an absolutely clear and sunny morning and the path seemed more gradual than previous days (photo--that's me walking!), passing a beautiful lake on the way (photo). We all knew what we were in for today though, a gain of about 2,000 feet by the day's end. It is recommended that you don't gain more than 1,000 ft per day at this elevation but most people jump from Dingboche to Lobuche after an extra night in Dingboche because there is no other place to really comfortably overnight. We all took it easy and went at a decent pace but some of us were really dragging by lunch time. The photo of Andy with his head in his hands, above, is from lunch. He could barely take the smell of the food, let alone eat it. I had one of my worst night's sleep the night before in Dingboche (approx. 2 hours total all night long?) and by the time we stopped for lunch 3 hours later, I just wanted to lay down. A tarp was spread on the ground, one of the few times our meal was not taken at a teahouse. There were many items for lunch that day but we all remember the main dish was a delicious noodle soup. God, it was good! It turned us from zombies into actually having quite a bit of energy. There was fruit too, another welcome menu item. And I remember having so much Tang to drink just to hydrate as much as possible, that I probably ingested a gallon of it. After lunch was another prolonged, steep climb but we all had much more purpose in our step. At the top of this incline at Lobuche Pass was the flat area with the chortens, cairns, and memorials for climbers who have died on Everest. It is a beautiful but sobering area with prayer flags whipping in the wind and trekkers resting in the sun. There are hundreds of memorials (photo) and one of the larger ones is for Scott Fischer (photo). As I've mentioned in a previous post, Scott was one of the founders of Mountain Madness, one of the lead guides who died in the storm on Everest in 1996, chronicled in Into Thin Air. We all had our photo taken next to the memorial and sat for a while to reflect on the climbers who had died, the families they left behind, and the draw of the mountains sitting before us. We continued uphill, lost in our thoughts. Trees and any kind of greenery or vegetation disappeared thousands of feet ago, just above Namche. Here it is all glacial rock in the Khumbu valley. Chris likened our steps to walking on softballs. How true. When we reached Lobuche at 16, 200 feet, I actually felt strong and content and pleased with my effort for the day. We took tea and biscuits at 4pm and watched the temperature drop in the dining hall every 5 minutes or so after the sun set for the day. The rooms and beds were pretty nice and the plywood walls seemed thicker than the other places. There was even a "night" toilet inside (which had the loudest door squeak ever, by the way) and a designated stainless steel sink to brush your teeth and wash your hands in! Im not sure why we called Lobuche "The Palace", but it did seem a little nicer than some of the other places we stayed. After dinner I was just really calm and happy about the day and even had the want to stay up and read at the dinner table with a few people, while others played cards with the sherpa staff. 30 minutes into reading, out of nowhere, I was overcome by severe nausea and dizziness so bad I thought I was going to fall off my chair. I couldnt put my finger on what was happening to me. What could be wrong? I had felt so good and strong since we'd arrived! 5 minutes ago I was conversing and laughing and enjoying the evening, and now...? And then the wheezing and crackling started in my lungs. I happened to be sitting next to our guide Deana, and though I fully did not want to say anything about what was happeneing to me in that moment, I grabbed her arm and hesitantly described my symptoms. My worst fear being that I've made it this far-- I am 1500 vertical feet away from Base Camp, my life's dream,-- and she is going to tell me that I have to descend! Without missing a beat, she told me its classic altitude sickness. I said, that can't be, I had a really strong day, I felt great just 5 minutes ago! She explained that its very typical that the problems appear when you are at rest, usually 4-8 hours later. We had been warned about it happening in the middle of the night, but I was still shocked that I was sitting there reading one minute, and the next minute feeling like I was literally going to die. That was the night I started taking the Diamox/AMS medication. I also took a shot off of my inhaler and tried to calm myself down with music from my ipod. My body was shaking because I was so anxious that she would send me down to a lower elevation to correct my symptoms. I was upset and scared even contemplating the idea. Deana was wary of the wheezing turning into Pulmonary Edema, and frankly, I didn't want to even let myself go there. There was a definite possibility that my lungs would compromise what I had set out to do. That night I propped my big duffel under my head and shoulders and slept upright to help me breathe better. I hydrated intensely throughout the night. I restarted my ipod over and over on the same calm playlist. I willed myself to get through the night. I kept thinking of the people who would tell me to suck it up and it'll be ok. And when the sunlight lit up the room in the morning, I was never happier to see the arrival of a new day. The extreme dizziness and nausea had subsided and the wheezing had lessened somewhat, even though my lungs still sounded junky. I think that was my new baseline. I continued with the next dose of Diamox and my inhaler and also forced myself to drink and eat as much as possible at breakfast. I knew I would need to continue the mind-over-matter battle for at least 2 more days before we would start descending.