Dirty Walking to Everest Base Camp - Part 2

Everest Base Camp sits at about 17,500 feet and the eight or so days it takes to get there takes you through varied and increasingly eerie and desolate terrain.  What starts as rivers, pine trees, and thick forests of rhododendron quickly turns into some kind of post-apocalyptic ice and rock moonscape.  Once above the tree-line and at about 15,000 feet I really started to notice the altitude and how hard it was to do even small tasks like climb stairs.  Once I acclimated, the breathing got better and when I got into the rhythm of putting left in front of right on the trail, I could breathe fine, until the next stop, always climbing up.

I had a kind of sleep apnea during my night at Gorak Shep which is at about 17,000 feet.  I would drift off to sleep, my breathing would slow and I would wake up, panicked and breathing hard, not getting enough oxygen.  I would eventually calm myself down, my breathing would slow, and I would fall back asleep only to repeat the same process.  I resigned myself to the fact that it was uncomfortable sleeping, or doing much of anything above 17,000 feet.  It really made me appreciate how strong my sister Sharlie is as she lives a full life with Cystic Fibrosis, and how hard it is for her to walk up stairs, or to do small physical tasks that I take for granted.  This whole trip gave me an understanding of what it is like to struggle to breathe and an appreciation for what my sister Lexi endured towards the end of her life, and what my sister, Sharlie, and my young niece and nephew, Ben and Lauren, fight for every day.  I was constantly reminded of the pressure on my lungs and regulation of breath.  I was also hopeful for the future, especially for my niece and nephew who I believe will someday know what it is like to climb mountains without the limitations of Cystic Fibrosis.

I'm not good at subtle fundraising but for these two I'd do anything, so if you have the means or the inclination, please help my family in their fight.

Hiking to Base Camp

Along the Khumbu Glacier

On the glacier

Ice wall on the way to Base Camp

Me and my brother at Base Camp

Expeditions waiting for better weather

Our inspiration

The most difficult and fulfilling day of the trek for me was the day after we hit Everest Base Camp.  A small group of us woke up before sunrise and started the hike up to the peak of Kala Pattar at about 18,500 feet.  I felt great and set a pretty good pace up the mountain.  As the sun rose and the trail became steep, I would stop to rest and catch my breath, but the flags at the top and the view kept pulling me and once at the top, the view was spectacular with Mt. Everest splitting the sun, the Khumbu glacial lakes thousands of feet below and the Himalayan giants rimmed sky.  I didn't have a problem with heights until I got to the top and looked over the edge at the drop and I held onto the thick rope of prayer flags that marked the summit and added my own silent ones.

View from the top of Kala Pattar

After carefully descending from the technical section at the top of Kala Pattar, I ran down, completely exhausted and with snot streaming out of my nose and a wild smile, bouncing down the tundra absorbing the shock with my knees as I skied moguls in my head, breathing hard and laughing like a maniac at 18,000 feet.  The rest of the group had already left for the next stop, Dingboche at 12,600 feet, and our group that hiked to the top of Kala Pattar ate breakfast and tea and contemplated where the energy would come from, but descending into the oxygen-rich altitude of 12,000 feet opens up some new energy stores and that day, trekking in the small group, with the exhilaration of Kala Pattar behind us, was one of the most beautiful and memorable days of the trip.

Climbing up to Kala Pattar...

and running down

The next few days were difficult because I was coming off the high of Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar, but we were at the halfway point and we still had to get back to Lukla.  I was still looking forward to running the stretch from Namche to Lukla, but it was difficult staying motivated for the last few days of descent.  I thought it would be easy going from 18,500 feet to 9,000 feet in three days, but it was still pretty difficult with slow, steep descents and some pretty tough climbs. One of the more beautiful and memorable days on the return trip to Lukla was the rarely-used sherpa trail from Dingboche to Phortse village.  This was a change made by our guides from the original itinerary because they wanted to show us a less traveled and more rustic side of Nepal, and I wasn't sure how you could get more rustic than a yak-dung stove and a hole in the ground bathroom, but you can.  The sherpa trail was cut on the side of a mountain over a river and the views were breathtaking.  This was the most narrow and one of the more scenic and empty trails that I experienced and I really had to hold myself back from running it - if I do have the chance to go back to Nepal, this is one stretch that would be on my list of must-run trails.  Eventually I would get my chance to run, and I'll post my experience of trail running in Nepal in a couple of days.

Trail to Phortse

Om Mani Padme Hum

Sherpa trail to Phortse

View point

Sherpa trail with Phortse below


Best apple pie in the world

These guys pop up every few hours to make you feel like a whiny little girl

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.


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.


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

Ratings and Recommendations