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Prayer flags above Dingboche. Lhotse and Island Peak in the background.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Return to base camp

We flew from Kathmandu to the small village of Lobuche on the morning of May 4 and then walked a little under three hours to base camp. Our foray to warmer weather and better appetites was wonderful. I feel so much better, both mentally and physically. We managed to miss a lot of cold and snowy weather during our absence and I for one am grateful.

It looks like we will have another day or two of this less than ideal weather but our tents are dry and comfortable.

The rope fixers are currently putting in the rope the last 400 meters to the South Col and the our amazing Sherpa staff will haul tents and oxygen to there in anticipation of our summit bid. Phil believes we will summit around the 15th which is quite early. There will be no complaints from me!


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Unorthodox second Everest rotation

Everest and Nuptse from Kala Patthar. Everest is on the left.

Our team is trying an unorthodox second rotation method in our preparations for a summit attempt in a week or two. Historically - say 5 to 30 years ago - teams have climbed from base camp to camp 1 (about 20,000'). They tend to spend one or two nights there, maybe walking part of the way to camp 2 (about 21,500'), and then return to base camp to recover. They will next make a climb to camp 2 for one to five nights with possibly a partial climb up the Lhotse face, sometimes as far as camp 3 (about 23,500' to 24,000'). Some groups will spend a miserable night at camp 3. Some groups are using exactly this method this season. There is also a much smaller history of people never leaving base camp until it's time for the summit push. Six weeks at 17,500' will definitely raise your acclimatization levels. In other words, there is not "one way" to do this.

Our team made one rotation, spending a night in camp 1 and then three nights in camp 2. These are never fun trips. Your body is starving for oxygen and the side effects are many. I experienced bad headaches, a huge loss of appetite and almost no sleep for the three of the four nights. It's cold, unpleasant and not much fun. On the plus side, we made huge advances in our acclimatization and enjoyed some incredible scenery. 

I also lost about 10 pounds in the five days/four nights I was up there and felt noticeably weaker. And I was not alone in this.

This year things tend to be different for many of the teams on Everest for two reasons. The biggest difference this year is the very warm temperatures and the secondary issue is that the past winter saw very little snow. This is causing the ordinarily dangerous Khumbu icefall (the first obstacle out of base camp) to be far more dangerous than normal. As a result nobody wants to make any unneeded trips through the icefall. The expedition operators were even successful in lobbying the Nepali government into allowing helicopters to bring the ropes for above C1, a first in Everest history. This saved an estimated 87 Sherpa trips through the icefall, potentially saving lives. I and many others would prefer to see helicopters used to ferry virtually all needed supplies and equipment past this section. I realize the "purists" at home who can't even find Nepal on a map will frown upon this but I couldn't care less about their opinions; I care about Sherpa safety and climber safety. 

With all this in mind, the question is what do we do now that our first rotation is over with? Well, our team decided to go down to Kathmandu for 2-3 nights vs up to C2 again. Does this make any sense at all? First, consider life at base camp. It tends to be chilly by day and really cold at night. This can wear you down after a while. You also don't eat as well as you would like at these high altitudes so you are slowly growing weaker. Kathmandu is warm and low. You eat and sleep very well; small cuts, bruises and minor health issues all heal very quickly. In other words you are getting stronger very quickly. I know, we are a bunch of spoiled Western sissies. Sorry. We aren't here saving lives; this is for fun and after a while it ceases to be fun! We decided to trade a little acclimatization for a lot of regained weight and strength. 

Variations on this "drop back" theme have been used successfully over the years. Many groups have gone down to one of the villages at about 12,000' to 13,000'. The problem is the walk back up to base camp at 17,500' uses a lot of the energy you just regained. The tea houses also have lots of strangers in them, all spreading germs around. People can get sick here and with a summit bid just around the corner, you might not have time to fully heal up.

In the past few years with the introduction of very powerful helicopters, some people have returned to Kathmandu for a short break and this has proven very beneficial to them. Doctors tell us that you gain and lose acclimatization at about the same rate. This means 2-3 nights down low is not a deal breaker for us. Think of it this way: we don't know if our summit bid will start the 5th, 10th, 15th or even 20th of May. With a window of perhaps one to three weeks for the start of our summit bid, three days in Kathmandu becomes relatively insignificant. The slight loss of acclimatization is more than made up for with the regained physical strength and mental rejuvenation.

Our trusty Manang Air helicopter, flown by Laurence, a Swill pilot who I really enjoyed.

Out little team enjoying three nights of R&R at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kathmandu.

It certainly seems to be working for our crew. One look at their faces today vs three days ago will quickly reveal how positive this experience has been. Haggard and tired countenances are now glowing and full of life. You truly feel like a new man. 

Ok, so I know it helps today and I am pretty certain it will help in the upcoming summit push. But what about the naysayers? First of all, screw the naysayers! This is my life, not yours. I don't mind if you sit around and do whatever it is that you do; show us the same courtesy. Much of the criticism circles back to that tired old argument that we are a bunch of rich, bucket listing Westerners exploiting the noble Sherpa for our own selfish objectives. I've addressed this nonsense in the past but allow me to repeat myself. 

No one forces anyone to do anything on Everest. It simply wouldn't work. I 100% acknowledge the critical role the Sherpa perform. I would be lucky to get myself and my gear to base camp without their strength, intelligence and abilities that far exceed mine. No argument here at all. Compared to me, they are like a race of supermen. No Sherpa = no summit. Period, full stop! I admire them, consider them as my betters, go out of my way to not take advantage of them and will (and have) abandoned my own summit dreams if I felt that continuing would in any way put them at too much risk. I only climb with groups like Altitude Junkies who pay them proper wages, provide them with proper equipment including adequate oxygen and don't allow them to carry large loads. This costs me more money; I don't care. These guys are my friends and I don't abuse my friends. Given the chance, I might abuse some of the naysayers. ;)

But I'm in Kathmandu and they are carrying loads for me up to C3 and C4. Is that abusive? No, and here's why. If I were in base camp they would still be doing this for me. I don't possess the strength to perform that task, and neither does virtually any other Westerner. They are well paid to perform certain tasks and whether I am at base camp, Kathmandu or on the moon, that is their responsibility and my physical location plays no role in this. In fact, by being here, the workload is actually lessened for them. The kitchen staff is able to sleep in and take things easy for a few days. I'm not around to bother the climbing Sherpa while they do their jobs. We are a burden and not a help to the Sherpa. Our absence eases that burden. 

Some say we are in some way cheating. Seriously? How is it possible to cheat in something that isn't a competition, means nothing to anyone but the participant and that has no rules? Let me cite one example. When climbing Elbrus, the highest point in Europe, most climbers will make one or more hikes up to a particular set of rocks to help their acclimatization. When it's actually go-time, they will then ride in a snow cat up to that point and climb from there. The rationale is that they've already done that work and now they only need to climb the rest of the way. This is the accepted way to climb Elbrus. By extension, this means I should be able to take a helicopter back up to C2 and climb from there. But simply suggesting this in jest brings out the smug "you're an idiot, I know better" looks and comments from people. With that in mind, I fail to see how three days and nights of good food and sleep is in any way "cheating".

To the naysayers: you do things your way and I will do them mine. I am climbing Everest for simple reasons; to enjoy myself in the mountains, to reach a PERSONAL goal and to come home safely to my family. I am making no grandiose claims of my skills, strengths or the importance of what I'm doing. I just want to climb to the top and have a good time on the way.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

To Camp II And Back Again Photos

Sange Sherpa in the icefall

Sunrise on Pumori as we are returning to Everest Base Camp

The view of the Lhotse face and the west shoulder of Everest from C2

Sange crossing the ladder in the icefall

The Lhotse face looking up to the South Col and Camp 4

Sange nearing the end of the icefall

Sange in the icefall

Friday, April 29, 2016

Camp 2 rotation complete

First the important news: our Everest team is all back down safely in base camp. Now...the rest of the story. 

We left base camp as expected at 1:00 am on Monday the 25th. The route up through the icefall is different this year following the tragic avalanche of 2014 that killed 16 mountain workers. While safer from overhead risks, it is a much more demanding route vs prior years. I was climbing quite steadily with Sange Sherpa, my friend and guide. The night began very cold but I tend to generate a lot of heat when exerting myself and soon layered down to my shirts and a soft shell jacket. I slowly became colder and colder but didn't want to stop to add the needed layers of insulation. 

Eventually I became super cold and I think this coupled with the very high respiratory rate required of moving quickly up through the glacier brought on my first ever asthma attack. My mom and son both suffer from asthma and I've heard all the descriptions of the near impossibility of breathing but actually feeling it was more than eye opening. I would stand still for several minutes and breath with all my might and could not find any oxygen for my aching lungs. I would hesitantly take a few steps and then be forced to a halt to just gasp for air. 

The hardest portion of the climb was still ahead of me. There's a near vertical wall about 35 feet high at the top of the icefall. Everyone agreed there should be a ladder there bot there isn't. To make things worse, the bottom 8 feet have been kicked by so many cramponed feet that the wall is concaved inward. The result is a bulge of ice a little higher than your head that forces you away from the wall just when you absolutely don't want that to happen. 

I failed to negotiate this section several times and retreated back down to consider my options.  Eventually Sange downclimbed to me and took my backpack. That made just enough of a difference and I was able to get over this difficult 8 feet using every ounce of strength I had. Once over the worst, all I could do was lean into the ice and desperately gasp for air. A few more minutes and I reached the top which was thankfully flat snow. I fell to the ground and lay on my back for perhaps ten minutes desperately trying to not vomit in front of all the other people who weren't feeling much better than myself. 

Another hour of slow plodding and I reached the camp 1 tents. I more or less fell into my tent and pretty much stayed there for about 18 hours. I recovered quite well and made the trek to camp 2 in three hours which is respectable as many are taking four or more hours to go the distance. My recovery was not due to anything I did but to the tremendous care Sange gave me.  He melted snow, made tea, gave me food, deployed my sleep pad and bag and just looked after me.  I'm truly grateful. 

Camp 2 is a bleak place surrounded by magnificent scenery. I was unable to sleep at all at C1 and managed a few minutes my first night at C2. I also "enjoyed" a very bad headache. The wind almost never stopped our first night and it was cold.  The second day there was spent just like our first partial day: resting and trying to eat. I slept better the second night, maybe 4-5 hours. 

The third day was spent with a little exercise. I walked about 80 minutes uphill to the bottom of the Lhotse face and managed a good speed. It took 35 minutes to get back to C2. The third night was better and worse. The wind and its associated noise went away and I slept perhaps half or more of the night. But, it got desperately cold. I wore my down vest, a light and heavy down jacket, three shirts, warming pants, long johns, down pants and down booties inside my zero degree sleeping bag and still shivered for hours. 

We woke at 4:00 am, had breakfast and headed down at 5:15. There had been a collapse in the icefall which slowed us a little and it took 
Sange and me about six hours to reach base camp. During this time the temps went from extremely cold to so warm that I was overheating in a t-shirt!

I know I'm better acclimatized for having done this rotation and will be stronger when it comes time for the summit push. But right now I'm just enjoying not being cold and hungry!

Thanks for reading along with me!


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Moving up to camp 2

I have been in base camp for a week and it is now time to climb higher to help our acclimatization. We will get up at midnight tonight, have a light breakfast and be moving by 1 am. Why climb at night when it's so cold and dark? Well there are a number of reasons and they vary based on where you are on the mountain. 

The first obstacle we face above base camp is the Khumbu Icefall. It's a moving glacier, a river of ice that flows about four feet per day. It is all broken up with chunks of ice (seracs) as small as a football and as big as a house. This river is less active when it's cold which reduces the risk of one of these big seracs falling on us. There is also considerable danger from avalanches falling on us from the two high ridges on either side of the icefall. 

Once we emerge from the Khumbu Icefall we will be at camp 1 which is about 19,500'. We will take 5-7 hours to get there. We spend one uncomfortable night at camp 1 and then leave for camp 2 about 4 am. The early start this time is to beat the heat. We walk up the Western Cwm (a Welsh word pronounced "coom" which means "valley") for about four hours. The Cwm is a huge glacier with steep glaciated walls on both sides. It becomes a huge reflector oven in the sun and temps can approach 100 degrees. Camp 2 is at about 21,500'. 

We will spend a few days at camp 2 growing red blood cells and acclimatizing. We will make a touch-and-go to camp 3 at about 24,000' to help this process. Camp 2 is the best of the four high camps with a full kitchen. It is often called Advanced Base Camp. It is a balancing act at camp 2. Spend too much time there and you are significantly weakened; insufficient time and you are acclimatized enough. Each person is different so you really need to pay attention to your body. Sleep comes hard, your appetite vanishes and many have a headache. It tends to be either very hot or very cold. I know it sounds like a whole lot of suffering but there is tremendous beauty there and it is a vital step in climbing Everest. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Photos from the THI "Trek for Recovery" to Everest Base Camp

Cho La Pass Scenery

Sunset on Everest from Kalla Patthar

Dennis on Kalla Patthar

Everest Base Camp

Cho La Pass

Top of Kalla Patthar

Monday, April 18, 2016

End of the trek, start of the climb

Our four person trekking team is now enjoying the easy life in Kathmandu. We had a wonderful time walking through the mountains of Nepal enjoying the magnificent scenery, interesting culture and super friendly people. The group got along very well and everyone was strong. This is a magical place to visit and needs to be on your bucket list. 

The last few days saw us crossing the Cho La pass at about 17,500'. It is a relatively easy walk up for most of the way although the final few hundred feet are tough. The following day we walked to Gorak Shep, at 17,000' this is the highest village in the world. We were blessed with clear skies so we hiked up Kalla Patthar, a nearby hill, and watched the sun set on Everest and Nuptse. This is something everyone should see at least once in their life. Words cannot describe how beautiful this is.

Next up was a visit to Everest base camp. We had tea and snacks at the Altitude Junkies camp and the team left with a better understanding of expedition life - both the good and bad. 

From here it is mostly downhill. Three of the members descended to Pheriche, Namche Bazaar the next day and finally to Lukla. That is going from 17,500' to 9,300' over three days. It is incredible how much stronger you feel as the air grows richer and warmer. They flew to Kathmandu the following morning and are reveling in hot showers with unlimited water, far more choices for dining, and of course finding wifi without a struggle. 

Scott and I split off from the others just above Pheriche and instead went to Dingboche. The next day we walked to Chukkung and on to the Island Peak base camp. This was my second time at this camp and it was just as unpleasant as the first time.  It is eternally windy with lots of dirt and dust blowing about. 

We went to bed early and got up at 1:00 am to head for the summit. We were actually moving by 2:15. The climb is mostly on a rocky trail but does require crampons and ice axes for the top as it is on a glacier. When I climbed this mountain in 2008 the final challenging headwall was snow covered and not too difficult. This time the snow was all gone and only ice remained. The climbing was quite a challenge. We finally summited around 8:30. I lingered about one minute as my feet were very cold in my crampon compatible running shoes. Scott elected to use proper climbing boots and wasn't cold at all so he stayed longer. 

The downclimb was long and tedious at times but we finally reached our camp at 1:45 pm. We were quite tired! We took a 15 minute power nap, ate some French fries and drank some milk tea and were reenergized. We packed our gear and walked two more hours to Chukkung, trading a dirty tent and lousy food for a warm teahouse and steaks. 

The following morning we walked to Dingboche where Scott and I parted ways. He headed off for Namche Bazaar, Lukla and Kathmandu while I headed back up to Everest base camp. I was super tired, cold, hungry and dehydrated  by the time I arrived. 

It was sad to see our trek come to an end and say goodbye to our team members. It was also exciting to get back to base camp and focus on my next goal: a safe Everest summit. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Trek for Recovery Team Reaches EBC

Hello Everyone,
I have a couple of photos to share.  Robert and Scott are on there way to attempt Island Peak.  The rest of the team will be hiking down the mountain to Lukla and then enjoy a helicopter ride back to Kathmandu for rest and sightseeing before their trip home to Nebraska.

A text from Robert: "Scott and I are in Dingboche and everyone else is in Pheriche.  Everyone is doing well.  They really enjoyed base camp. It snowed 1-2 inches last night and a little bit this afternoon. We just spoke with an American group who bailed on Island Peak today. They said it was very icy and dangerous.  We are hoping that it will be better in two days when we try it.  I have no interest in taking chances on this peak."
Posted by Patty, Lincoln NE

                                         The team is well and really enjoyed base camp.

                                         The photo below is the puja ceremony at Everest Base Camp.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu from Goyko Ri

What a view!

Cheppa Sherpa & Lunch Guy

The young guy who carried our lunch is in the background and Cheppa Sherpa (our porter) is in the foreground.

New Skis For Tenzing

Robert brought new skis and boots for Tenzing

Cholaste from Gokyo Ri

You can see the village of Gokyo next to the sacred Gokyo lake.

Top of Gokyo Ri

Beautiful views and people

Since the last update in Thame we walked to Lungden (also called Lunde) and spent some time with my friend Mingma Sherpa. She lives with her husband, sister and blind daughter in this remote and cold village. They lost their home and small teahouse in last year's earthquake but are hard at work rebuilding it. I'm very proud to say that my friend Dan Fonfara played an important role in this effort. 

The following morning saw us up at 6am and walking by 7am. We made great time climbing from about 14,500' to about 17,700' up the Renjo La (pass). We were greeted by a young guy from my friend Tenzing Sherpa's hotel who carried a delicious lunch up for us! It was so cool to eat a hot lunch and drink hot tea in such a remote place. We made our way down the east side of the pass to the Fitzroy Lodge. It was more interesting than last fall because there was still some snow left from the winter that required some route finding. Tenzing and his mother have been bending over backwards taking wonderful care of us.

Yesterday we hiked up Gokyo Ri, a 17,500' hill next to the village of Gokyo. The views from the top are some of the best I know of anywhere in the world. We could see Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu - four of the world's six highest peaks with a simple turn of the head. Talk about being blessed!

Today we are going to walk about 90 minutes to the tiny village of Dragnag and tomorrow we cross the Cho La (pass) and will sleep in Dzongla. 

Life is good!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


 From Robert:  We had a beautiful walk to Thame with a long break in Thamo for momos (Nepali comfort food). Everyone is feeling great, especially after a hot shower.

From Patty:  Nepali Momos are quite similar to the oriental food we know as potstickers.  They are often stuffed with chicken and or veggies.  One can order them fried or steamed.  Momos are hand made with each cook having a special style in sealing the pasta seam with twists and pinches that become a work of art. There are several dipping sauces to choose, most are super spicy for the untrained palate.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Trek for Recovery Team

Our little team has had several fun days trekking in the Khumbu region of Nepal. We flew from Kathmandu to Lukla in a private helicopter on Sunday and then walked about four hours to our lodge in the small village of Monjo. Our only disappointment was the cloudy weather meant the solar powered hot water heater didn't work. A small price to pay for such a nice day's walk.

Everybody slept well and then we were moving again by 8 am. Staying in Monjo put us closer to the infamous Namche hill. We hiked up it quite quickly and found our rooms in the beautiful Panorama Hotel. Here we enjoyed hot showers before walking down the hill to go into the village. We had a great lunch and did a little last minute shopping. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy so we couldn't see much. We were in bed by nine after a very filling dinner.

Today we walked up to the Everest overlook and were blessed with blue skies and wonderful views. We also went to two different Sherpa museums and then hiked up a steep hill to get to Kumjung and Khunde. Here we visited the school started by Sir Edmund Hillary as well as the medical clinic he founded. Sir Ed went on to establish lots of schools and clinics in this remote mountainous region.

We are back to our hotel now and I am excited about my next hot shower! The team is strong and everyone is having a great time. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Tiny Hands Trek for Recovery is underway

The second Tiny Hands Trek for Recovery team is having a ball! Everyone arrived safely in Kathmandu last Sunday and Monday. Some had a little drama with messed up flights but that is all in the past now. We've spent a busy week enjoying the sights and more importantly, the people of Nepal.

We started off slowly with a few walks around Thamel, the touristy portion of Kathmandu. We enjoyed some good meals, did a little last minute shopping and adjusted to the near 12 hour time zone difference. Wednesday was a full day with a tour of the city. We walked through some busy local markets on our way to the Kathmandu Durbar (Palace) Square. This incredible world heritage sight was badly damaged in the April 25, 2015 earthquake but is still absolutely worth the time to go there.

From there we met with some Tiny Hands staff and they gave us a better understanding of how their ministry works and how great the need is. Their primary focus is to stop the trafficking of Nepali girls into a life of slavery and death. This is an unimaginable practice that demonstrates just how depraved people can be. Tiny Hands saves over a thousand girls each year and yet the need far exceeds this number. They also look after over a hundred orphaned or near-orphaned kids in small family-centric homes. If ever you've felt the need to help people in need, please consider donating to them. They can be found here.

Following this sobering time we went to the monkey temple and Boudhanath stupa, two important Bhuddist sites in Kathmandu, Pashupatinath (a place for Hindu people to cremate their dead), Bhaktapur (a neighboring town that has been swallowed up into greater Kathmandu) and to our eight kids' home on the southern edge of town.

Fun people and holy men (or at least men who never bathe!).

An old building in Durbar Square that is partly damaged from the earthquake.

On Thursday we flew to the much quieter town of Pokhara and visited the Dream Center where Tiny Hands runs a school for about 50 kids, primarily kids who live in the orphanages in this area. In just two short years, and in spite of many bureaucratic obstacles, they have built a nice and very functional school with some great teachers, along with two beautiful homes for their precious kids.

We were welcomed like long lost friends and really enjoyed our time there.

The Dream School

Inside one of the Dream Center homes. They are beautiful.

Hey Andrew - it's cricket, not baseball!

Friday morning was reserved for a little R&R. Scott and I decided to try our hand at tandem paragliding and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately the skies were quite hazy and cloudy so we couldn't see the amazing views of the Annapurna range that I've enjoyed in the past but we still had a great time.
Scott getting ready to fly.

Saturday was spent with our eight kids. We did our traditional Saturday lunch at the Hyatt hotel's big buffet and then swam for a couple of hours. The kids have a ball but I think I enjoy it more than anyone!

Poor Karseng has exams tomorrow and had to study. :(

Tomorrow morning we leave for the airport at 6 am and weather permitting we will be in Lukla for breakfast. We then walk mostly downhill to Phakding for lunch and then another hour or two to Monjo for a shower, dinner and some sleep. This is getting real!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The countdown begins

In ten days I will be leaving again for Kathmandu, Nepal for my third (or is it my fourth?) attempt on Everest.  All the training at the gym is finished, the gear is sorted out and now I am just trying to find a little time to pack my duffle bags.

However, before the climb begins, I will be leading a group of four great people to Everest Base Camp. This trek is a fundraiser for Tiny Hands International who does amazing work within Nepal to stop the sex trafficking of young girls and also to lovingly care for orphaned kids. Our trek will not be on the traditional, shortest, route to Everest but rather we will take the scenic route over two high passes with far fewer people along the way. 

After reaching base camp, three of the trekkers will return to Kathmandu while Scott B. and I will do our best to climb Island Peak, a 22,305’ peak on the south side of Lhotse and Everest. Post climb, Scott will return to Nebraska and I will head back to the Everest base camp which will be my home for the next 5 to 6 weeks.

Before heading to the mountains,  we will visit many of the awesome sights around Kathmandu including two of the three palace squares, a Hindu holy place where the dead are cremated, two famous Bhuddist stupas and the Tiny Hands offices. We will enjoy some great meals and do our best to absorb the incredible chaotic culture of Nepal. We will also take a side trip to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal, and visit the Tiny Hands Dream Center. The Dream Center is a rural property that houses several of the family style orphanages that is one of Tiny Hands’ hallmarks along with a school for the kiddos. Pokhara is a beautiful town set on the edge of a lake and surrounded by peaks on all sides, especially to the north. 

Now, why do I question what attempt this will be for me? Well, the first time I tried was in 2010 and bad weather turned me back at 27,800’. I went again in 2013, this time to the north side (in Tibet) and made it to 27,500’ before my freezing feet stopped me from going any further. I returned again in 2014 but that was the year of the tragic avalanche that killed 16 mountain workers. The mountain was closed in the aftermath of this horrible event and I never even had a chance to step foot onto the mountain. 

I have very high hopes for this trip. I feel more prepared than in the past, have some new ideas on how to deal with my two biggest problems - the inability to eat and very cold feet - and will be climbing with my buddy Sange Sherpa and also hopefully with the incredible Pasang Ongchu Sherpa. If anyone can get this old guy from Nebraska to the world’s highest point it is these two incredible people. 

I will be doing my best to blog and Patty will do what she can based on my short phone calls home when I am unable to get online.

Here’s to a great season for all the climbers on Everest with absolutely no drama of any sort!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Trek for recovery recap

We've been back in Kathmandu for three days now but finding enough time to write this has been tough. 

Our little team enjoyed a great flight via helicopter from Kathmandu to Lukla on October 21 to start our trek. We chose a helicopter as the airport in Lukla has the dubious distinction of being the world's most dangerous commercial airport. Helis are safer at this particular airport and also tend to fly in "iffy" weather while the planes are all grounded. This made it more likely for us to stay on schedule.

Each day we would walk a little higher, taking care to not go too high too fast and risk having altitude sickness problems. We first reached reasonably high altitudes when we crossed the 17,600' high Renjo La (pass). It took a little huffing and puffing but everyone made it without any real problems and the views we were rewarded with were phenomenal. This picture shows Soni touching the top of Mt Everest.

I have learned over the years to expect little unscripted magic moments in Nepal and we were certainly blessed with one on this day. We had walked down from the top of the Renjo La for about ten minutes when we were greeted by Galgen Sherpa, the father of my friend Tenzing Sherpa in Gokyo. He and another guy had walked two hours up the pass and brought us a delicious hot lunch plus tea, Coke and dessert. The food was wonderful but the gesture of friendship was even better.

                             Sange enjoying some tea courtesy of Galgen Sherpa.

                                   Gokyo lake

The following morning found most of the team marveling at the views of Everest, Nupste, Lhotse (4th highest in the world), Makalu (5th highest) and Cho Oyu (6th highest) under cloudless skies when we climbed the nearby Gokyo Ri.

Our next big effort was to cross the Cho La (pass) at 17,800'. It had snowed the previous day so things were a little tougher than normal but everyone put in the effort it took and we soon found ourselves in the tiny village of Dzongla drying out wet shoes and socks. The next day we walked to Gorak Shep at 17,000' and settled into the Bhudda Lodge. We had great weather in the afternoon for the first time on the trip so we took advantage of it and quickly hiked up Kalla Patthar (18,300') and were blessed with an amazing scene as the sun set on Everest and Nuptse, turning them golden. 

The following morning we walked up to the Everest Base Camp at 17,500' and stepped briefly into the infamous Khumbu icefall. From there we retreated several miles down the valley to the village of Lobuche to spend the night.

The next morning we hiked right past the Lobuche East base camp and moved directly to Camp 1. Here we did some skills lessons on Himalayan climbing using fixed lines, rappelling and crampons. We finally went to bed around 6:30 in anticipation of a 3:00 am wakeup time. Opinions differ on the elevation of Lobuche East, but it is somewhere between 20,100' and 20,200' high.

Sange and Pasang Ongchu teaching the finer points of fixed line travel

Our early morning start was cold but we were comfortable in our warm clothing and boots. After a hearty breakfast, we left around 4:20 am. The going was quite steep at times and it took the group about six hours to reach the summit. We were blessed with absolutely perfect weather. The sky was a deep blue, there was no wind and the temps warmed up dramatically as we climbed. The views from the summit of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Makalu and all the other lesser peaks are some of the finest you will see anywhere in the world.

    Everest is the peak in the middle with the clouds on its right side

   More views from the summit

We enjoyed a long visit on the summit and then retreated down to Camp 1. Here we ate a little, drank some tea, packed up our belongings and then walked down for another 90 minutes to the teahouse at Lobuche. We were very tired but felt very satisfied with our efforts and with the day.

It was mostly downhill from here and we spent three days walking back to Lukla.

                                         Saying goodbye to Mingma Sherpa at the fake Starbucks in Lukla

Since our return to "normal" life in Kathmandu we have been eating a lot of great food, basking in the warmth of the lower altitude, sleeping in a little, and enjoying the reliving of our adventures. I think everyone is in agreement with me when I say that the scenery and adventure was more than we could possibly expect (even after being here many times) but what really impresses me every time is the wonderful people of Nepal. 2015 has been a particularly difficult year, starting with the 7.8 earthquake on April 25, the many aftershocks culminating with a 7.3 quake on May 12 and now the fuel embargo that India has imposed on Nepal for not doing what it wants with their internal affairs. The country has been truly brought to its knees as people have virtually no gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel or cooking gas. Tourism is drastically down, their fragile economy is being harmed and people can't move around like they normally do and yet everywhere you go you see smiling faces and people laughing and enjoying their lives. The Nepalese people are truly amazing and I love being with them!

We owe a special debt of gratitude to Sange Sherpa, a good friend of mine who joined us to help me lead the trip. His cheerful face and quiet strength were always a welcome sight. Assisting him was Mingma Sherpa who was our porter, carrying a group gear bag with overflow clothing and equipment. He may have begun as a porter but quickly became a valued member of our little team and we all felt saddened to say goodbye to him in Lukla. Thanks are also due to Biri, our cook on Lobuche East and his small crew of helpers. They established our camp for us prior to our arrival and fed us very well. 

Passing Ongchu Sherpa and Sange Sherpa put in the fixed ropes for us on Lobuche East, without which we would not have been able to summit. Passing Ongchu is one of a very small handful of UIAGA certified Sherpa guides in the world and his strength and skills are beyond amazing. Climbing with these two gentlemen is like playing basketball on your driveway with Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. They are incredibly overqualified for the job, but it is so reassuring to have them along to help us wannabes. 

Thank you for reading along with us,