Sunday, December 30, 2012

Nepal 2012 Chola Pass to Loboche

Chola Pass is just a pass - it's not a mountain and it's not a summit. 
But it was the toughest physical climb to date on this trek.

The distance is a long 12 miles (19 kms), and the vertical climb is 5098ft (1553 m) with a 52% slope. It's cold with slippery snow and ice, and the terrain is more rugged than we have experience before.

We start before daylight, knowing we have a long day ahead of us.

It takes us hours to climb out of the glacial morraine. As we scramble to gain elevation, the views open up wider and farther.

Snow made our ascent slippery, and wet when we fell.
For those of us who feel a strong connection with the Natural World, this place had a powerful connection.  Strangely, in a space half way around the world from our home, it felt like we belonged here.

When we arrived at the top of the Chola Pass, the views were spectacular.  We could see  Amadablam and Cholotse in the distance.  

Hogus took a break from riding, and sat to contemplate the view.

Climbing Team posed for a group picture, then headed across the ice.

Having reached the top, we thought the remainder of the day would be easy. 
But there is no easy in the mountains. 
For the last 3 hours we were exhausted, and it was a struggle to keep plodding forward, just one step at a time. The massive size of the mountains, combined with the relentless demand for power from our legs, made us feel small and humbled. But the ever-changing views of these majestic mountains motivated us to keep moving.

It took 11 hours to reach Loboche.  Even our guides, Ganesh and Sanjay, said they were 'just a little bit tired', meaning it had been a grueling day for all.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Nepal 2012 Glacier Crossing

Early this morning we climbed Gokyo Ri then traded farewell hugs with the trekking group. The trekking team would have a leisurely day at Gokyo, while the climbing team (Lennie, Roy, myself, with guides Sanjay and Ganesh) would have a harder day ... crossing the Ngozumpa Glacier to the small village of Dragnag.

The Ngozumpa Glacier is the longest glacier in the Himalayas. It flows slowly downhill, due to stresses induced by its own weight.

The glacial terrain is rugged - a combination of glacial till, boulders, ice, and open water. The winds free-flow along the length of the glacier, so at the southern end of the glacier where we cross, its very windy and very cold.

This is the Climbing Team - 3 guys, totaling 190 years. We may be past our prime, but we all have bucket lists and strong life-story reasons for climbing... and we are determined to prove that neither age nor body-damages can stop us. The next week will tell if our goals are achievable. And yes, that's ice frozen onto beards.
After a long day in the wind and cold, we finally reach the small village of Dragnag. Tonight we stay in a lodge, rather than a tent, but the lodge is unheated. It is well below freezing outside and inside, but at least we are out of the relentless winds.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nepal2012 Hogus&Paul Summit Gokyo Ri

Today would be a day of mixed emotions. We would climb Gokyo Ri together then split into a trekking team and a climbing team. Each team would then pursue their own journey for the next 8 days and hopefully reunite in Lukla. We were each enthusiastic about our own journey yet quietly apprehensive of our personal limitations and challenges. We were excited yet concerned for those on the other team ... having lived with them 24 hours a day for the past 3 weeks, and knowing their goals, motivations, and vulnerabilities. We stopped for a team picture, then started our climb.
The climb from Gokyo to Goyko Ri is a consistent slope of 39%, with an elevation gain of 570m (1,871ft). Not a technical climb but it does require persistence and a gritty mental attitude. 
Looking back and down, we can see Gokyo.
After many hours of methodical 'mountain slow' climbing, we reached the summit of Gokyo Ri (5360m or 17,585ft). Prayer flags snapped in the wind, wafting prayers to the gods.
There is a feeling of elation when reaching a summit ... after meeting the challenges and overcoming the apprehensions. For some, Gokyo Ri was a bucket-list item, for others it was conditioning and acclimatization for higher summits to climb over the next few days.
But we quietly contemplated what it took to reach that summit:
  • Power in legs to climb a vertical of 570m (1871ft) ... with 50% oxygen to our bodies.
  • Mental grit to force the body to keep moving, while suppressing doubts on personal abilities
  • Overcoming Altitude Sickness symptoms of screamer headaches, lethargy, nausia (fortunately I did not suffer these on this climb)
  • That aggressive and competitive spirit that will not tolerate a quit or a retreat
From the summit vantage point there were spectacular views of Mount Everest, Choi, Pumori, Lhotsi, Makalu, Tabuche, Cholotse, Nuptse, Tansi, and Tamserku.

Hogus and fellow-ostomate Paul proudly showed their ostomy gear, then quickly zipped up to protect sensitive body parts from the biting cold wind.
We CAN live ordinary lives ... even extraordinary lives.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Nepal 2012 Hurting

Everybody gets hurt.     It's not IF ... it's WHEN, and HOW BAD, and for HOW LONG.
Our team would trek for over a month in Nepal. We would all get hurt with something. We would be self-sufficient for all medical issues. We would 'keep moving' regardless of our hurts. We would adapt to the 3rd world environment that we chose to explore.
Many things would be different from our home country.
  • The water is different (we filtered or boiled or treated the local water).
  • We slept in unheated tents or lodges even when it was well below freezing.
  • Physical exertion far exceeded our normal activity-level (we climbed a VERTICAL of 16 miles!).
  • We ate local food and chose to be vegetarian. (no refridgeration made any meats risky).
  • Hydration requirements of 4-7 litres a day far exceeded our norm.
  • Oxygen levels at 50% of our normal caused many problems requiring adjustments.
  • Feet, knees, and muscles were not pre-conditioned to the rigours of 8-12 hour days over rough terrain.
  • Toilet facilities were 3rd world.
  • A 'good meal' means one that 'goes down and stays down'.
Our team was remarkably adaptable and adjusted to the 'present environment' gracefully. We had each self-assessed our own tolerances, and had chosen to be part of this Nepal 2012 team. We each knew we would be challenged physically and mentally... and that was part of the allure of this journey.

Everyone got hurt on something. Nobody got hurt on everything. 

But as a team, we got hurt on...

Incapacitating Leg Cramps, Diarrhea, Diarrhea blowouts (with and without ostomies), UTI, Fatigue, Constipation, Projectile Vomiting, Loss of Appetite, Dehydration, Nausea, Torn Quad Muscles, Foot-Blisters, Degenerating Hips, Blackened Toes, Lost Toenails, Lockup Knees, Rapid Weight Loss, and Altitude Sickness with Screamer Headaches and Lethargic Legs. 

From a prior Nepal journey, one trekker compared her accumulation of hurts with Chemo Treatments during her 2nd fight against breast cancer. She never quit and she never complained.

I have highest admiration for MC, who hurt a lot yet showed few signs of that hurt. MC had GI problems for most of 3 weeks but kept moving every day even while weakened by eating/retaining less that half-rations, weight loss, and dehydration. Sometimes she would just quietly retreat to her tent at the end of a hard day but she NEVER complained, and she NEVER quit.
 Hurting was part of our journey.  We absorbed it.  It didn't consume us. 
So many rich experiences overpowered these minor hurts.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nepal 2012 Who Carries the Load?

I wanted the experience of carrying a porter's load for just one day. Our guide Ganesh declined. Ganesh takes his responsibility for our safety very seriously, and his reputation and good judgement would not be jeopardized by such risky foolishness. So we compromised to trading loads with a porter for 100 yards.

Here are 2 packs
 [44 kgs or 97 pounds] -and- [7 kg or 15 pounds]

Here are 2 men
[40 kg or 90 pounds] -and-  [68 kgs or 150 pounds]

Who should carry which load?

At 5'6" or 167.5 cm, I am not a big man, 
but compared to Lakchin Rom Kulung, 
I am the big man and Lakchin is the small man.

Seems obvious that ...
The bigger man should carry the bigger load.
And the smaller man should carry the smaller load.
So we tried this combination.

The loads were OK for the first 100 meters but clearly the bigger man could not carry the bigger load for a 12 hour day, up and down steep rocky trails.

So we switched the loads.
The smaller man carried the bigger load.
The bigger man carried the smaller load.

Nepalese porters are, for their size, the strongest people I know. I am continually amazed at the power of these Nepalese porters.

Check out the calves on Lakchin Rom Kulung!
Lakchin carries 6 times the weight of my pack, 
and he does this in flip-flops!

While disregarding many well-intended hernia-warnings from team-members and guides, I was not entirely irresponsible and 'poggle' ("crazy" in Nepali). I did wear a Comfizz Level 3 Hernia Support, as I would quietly acknowledge this stunt was in the 'strenuous activity' category, and a hernia while in Nepal would be signficant inconvenience :). All went well and no damage was done.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Nepal 2012 Toughest Per Pound

Bir Badur is an amazingly strong man. Pound for pound he is the strongest man I have ever known.
Bir doesn't know his weight because he doesn't have a bathroom scale, because Bir doesn't have a bathroom in his house.

Paul is 150 pounds (70 kgs) and is 5'6" (167.5 cm) tall.
Two nurses on our team both agree that Bir probably weights 90 pounds (40 kgs) and is about 4'10" (147 cm) tall.

Bir carries this load of 90 pounds (40 kgs) (the same as his own weight) all day long up and down steep inclines, over rocks, streams, and tressle-bridges. And he never complains and he never quits smiling.

Check out the calves on Bir.

[Our team consciously chose to treat our porters well, consistent with the new Porter Progress initiatives. We chose to pay them top-end wages, carry light loads, and carry for the same hours that we trekked. When we rested to acclimatize for a day we paid our porters for that day-off. We gave or loaned them warm clothes. For part of our trek Bir and a few other porters chose to carry heavier loads, for increased wages.]

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nepal 2012 Long Climb to Namche

 The map looks deceptively easy, but it's a long hard grind to climb a 66% slope for hours. Just 2.7miles (4.6kms) seems like an easy day. But the GoogleEarth 3D map and the Elevation Chart shows a challenging climb near Namche with a relentless steep slope that can humble the even the best-conditioned trekkers, and turn powerful legs into rubber.

But Namche will be easy to find as it is clearly marked by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism.

The trail is so steep that switchbacks are necessary and many valleys are crossed by trestle bridges.
The trail is rocky, rough, and steep. Even the powerful porters move slowly up the relentless 'Namche Hill'. 
But there is a strong sense of accomplishment, and the exuberance shows when we rest at a plateau, before challenging the next rise.

Namche is nestled into a bowl, and the buildings follow the contours of the mountain. Here is the view after climbing above Namche.

Namche Bazaar is famous as a trading centre with goods moving up from Kathmandu and down from China. 
Mules and jopkeys carry the freight right down the cobble-stoned main streets of Namche.

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Nepal 2012 Flat Day ... NOT

Our guides told us this was a FLAT day. NOT!
It is called a flat day when you start and end the day at the same elevation. But that doesn't mean it was flat DURING the day. Actually we ascended 2899ft(884m) and descended 2963ft(903m) for an almost flat day with a 64ft (19m) elevation loss. It was only 8 miles, but it was a long and hard day. The worst uphill grade was 44% and the worst downhill grade was 50%. Our exhausted legs told us it was NOT a flat day!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nepal 2012 A Toothbrush for every School-Child

A box of 444 toothbrushes travel by airplane from Canada to Seoul, Korea where it was cut open, dumped out, and inspected by Korean Customs Officers. After re-packaging, the box flew to Kathmandu, Nepal then continued in a very small airplane to Tumlingtar, Nepal. From Tumlingtar to Gudel the box was carried by porter Bier Badu.

Hogus sat on the well-traveled box of toothbrushes at the school in Gudel.

During the celebration at Gudel the 3 school teachers gave out all 444 toothbrushes. Every school child got their very own toothbrush and the rest went to adults.

Many families share a single toothbrush and you can see by the faces that people appreciated this gift. We were amazed and humbled that so many children were overwhelmed with joy now having their own toothbrush. Toothbrushes were donated by SunStar and Dr. Perry Kurz.

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