Dirty Walking to Everest Base Camp - Part 1

I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack, so when presented the opportunity to join a group on a 3-week trek to Everest Base Camp, I had my reservations, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Nepal, to hike trails in the shadow of the highest peaks in the world, and to experience all of this with my mom, brother and brother-in-law.

This isn't much of a running entry, although there was some running involved (which I will hopefully get to in a few days), this is more of a travel journal, an online slide show that you don't have to feel bad about getting up and making an excuse to leave when you see the multiple boxes of slide carousels on the floor next to the dusty projector.  However, I promise a fun-filled tale of drugs, yaks, copious amounts of diarrhea, spiders the size of my hand, a sewage river, a milk river, the best apple pie in the world, and the worst yak steak (I don't have much to go on here), too many potatoes and garlic and cabbage, blood vomiting that I can still feel in my throat, and views of the mountains that reach into you and don't easily let go.

Kathmandu


The third world doesn't smell very good, and crossing the rivers in Kathmandu forced me to cover my nose and mouth, hold my breath and hold the vomit down.  I saw a boy in the river, playing, or looking for treasures among the dead rats, sewage, and garbage flowing through this beautiful rotten city.




The city was on strike, the Maoists were fighting the communists, so we walked through the city full of its temples where Buddhism and Hinduism braid together, a city where Buddha meditated and where the dead are burned in public and altars where animals are still sacrificed to Hindu Gods.  I saw a 5-yr old living Goddess, she was chosen for her beauty and cleverness at the age of three, not allowed to leave her chamber, not allowed to run outside, go to her friend's house for movies and popcorn, stuck in her chamber until she bleeds, until menstruation or cut and release.  She came to her chamber window, stared at us with black makeup on her eyes and face.  We were told to say Namaste and she stared at us looking bored for a goddess.

The prayer flags are everywhere, flowing from trees and buildings, over the soccer pitch where young boys skillfully pass back and forth while a group of friends watches in the saffron monk robes.

As I sat in the air-conditioned room with a full stomach, a packed bag , some jitters for the upcoming trek, and a plane ticket back to California, wrestling with the guilt of the comfortable, I couldn't get the smell of that river of shit running through the center of Kathmandu out of my nose, and I still can't get the site of the sad goddess out of my head.

Trekking


Flying into Lukla was an amazing experience, leaving the comforts of Kathmandu behind, flying over the clouds and seeing the tops of mountains way too close under our plane as the clouds cleared and seeing the short swath of asphalt that we were supposed to land on in the distance, the thing was nestled in the mountains and clouds and seemed to be at all the wrong angles for landing, so I wrote in my journal "I always knew I'd die in a plane crash" because I knew if I wrote that there is no way it would happen.  It didn't.

Airstrip at Lukla

Trekking is draining, a slow march higher into the clouds and gaining altitude, then losing it and gaining it again. The topography of Nepal is like crumpled paper that you uncrumple, but only slightly, with deep gorges, steep mountains, and then the real mountains in the clouds, where the sky should be.  We had guides who were experts at avoiding altitude sickness, and one of the rules was to go slow up, which meant holding back, stopping and resting frequently and always hiking higher than we slept.  It meant covering a few miles an hour and when we got to a destination, drinking some tea, then heading out to gain some more altitude, rest at the altitude, then return for dinner and sleep.  It turned out to be a good, but frustrating plan.  It is hard for me to walk in a line of other people, slowly, with the sound of trekking poles screeching on rocks, with the person behind you breathing down your neck and the person in front dragging feet through the dirt that would soon be in your mouth.  That part of trekking was difficult to get used to, but the flipside of that was the company on the trail, people to get to know over 8-hour trekking days, friends to play cards with at night and to discuss digestive issues with in the morning.  My brother celebrated his birthday on the trail and he announced one morning that all he wanted for his birthday was "a solid."

I was thankful for the group when I got sick.  I don't know how high my temperature got, but I don't recall ever being as sick as I was in Khumjung.  I had thrown up that morning in Namche, and I was pretty sure it was food poisoning from the night before.  It was violent, loud and bloody, and I felt better on the hike from Namche to Khumjung, but when I got to Khumjung, I was completely spent, no energy, and I went straight to my bed.  That's when the fever hit and I don't remember much, but it was delirium, fever, diarrhea and sweat. Thankfully we had a nurse in our group with rough, caring nurse's hands who took my temperature and recommended some drugs.  I started on the drugs, downing Cipro, Excedrin, Diamox, Immodium and Ibuprofen, and using an electric current machine that was floating around, and at that point I was ready to try anything.  The leader of the group came in and was talking about IVs and hospitals and fluids and all I could do was shit liquid.  Not a good day, but with the drugs running through my system and so many people taking care of me and Magic Buddha Chicken Soup and a prayer scarf around my doorknob, and about sixteen hours of sleep something worked and I was ready for the next day.

I shared the trails with donkeys, yaks and sherpas carrying loads that far outweigh them and would make a normal man buckle.  There are no cars, bikes or anything with wheels on the trails, only walking, slow, mindful walking.  I walked across slippery stones and muddy trails trying to avoid the animal shit, trying to watch every step while at the same time taking in the amazing views of the mountains, clouds and mist.


Nuptse, Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam - sunrise in Tengboche

View from my room




There is a spirit in the Himalayas, a connection to the ground, the trails, the mountains and the sky.  As prayer flags flow in the wind I passed a boulder with a carved mantra and past a monk in a wooden hut quietly chanting and spinning a giant prayer wheel that strikes a bell as it turns and the sharp ting of the bell hangs in the air gradually fading and almost disappearing when the air again is interrupted.


One of our acclimation hikes took us to a hilltop monastery.  It was a difficult climb after a day of trekking and when we got to the top, the monk let us in the inner part of the monastery, the colorful part where pictures of the Dalai Lama hang and dragons and a gold Buddha sit behind glass.  Out of respect, we speak with hushed voices, are shoeless and hatless and the monk answers our quiet questions.  A cell phone broke the silence and I looked around wondering who could be so crass and disrespectful in this mountain monastery tucked in the hills above Pahkding, and the monk reached into his saffron robes, pulled out his phone, and went about his daily life.

Our group with the cell-phone monk

The locals work hard with red wind-burned cheeks, children carrying loads on their backs, leaning over under the burden and we walk through shaking our heads at the way they have done things for thousands of years crisscrossing the trails carved into the hills and they don't live as long as we do, building walls and walkways by chipping and fitting granite puzzle pieces, and tending their herds as part of the family, guarding the animals with honor and life, people who walk from town to town and measure distances by days.


Crossing the Milk River

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