Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nepal 2012 Carry an Osprey

I have owned a dozen good backpacks, but the Osprey Stratos is the best I have ever carried. 

Last year I carried a good brand-name backpack in Nepal, and I was happy with it.
But I noticed that more than half of our trekking team carried Osprey packs, so I asked a lot of questions, and trial-carried several of them. I could see the superiority of materials, suspension, and features. I heard of amazing comfort, but would test that later.  

For Nepal 2012, I would carry an Osprey Stratos-36. I chose a top-loader (expandable for bulky loads) with a practical load range of 20-35 pounds (9-18 kgs). During my pre-Nepal conditioning, I broke it in hard, and tested it's comfort with 60 pound (27 kg) loads.  Such excessive weight was not recommended for the pack nor for me, but both handled it well :). This pack fit with uniform body contact and no hot spots. If it could be this comfortable at 60 pounds, I was really confident it would be comfortable with the 10-20 pounds I would actually carry in Nepal. The Stratos pack was accepted as Carry-On luggage on the flights from Canada - Korea - Nepal.

I carried the Osprey through some spectacular and serene countryside. Even on long climbs in hot weather, the breathable mesh fabric provided good airflow and ventilation, so no sweaty back!

Hydration was so important, particularly with an ostomy.
I drank 6-7 litres a day during the hot weather.
On the small sample size of our team of 10 trekkers, Osprey HydraForms had over 50% market share!

We climbed through the foggy clouds.

Hogus, normally a rider, sat with my backpack and contemplated life in the mountains.

We covered some nasty terrain at Chola Pass and while climbing Island Peak.

Three of us, each with Osprey packs of different vintages, look ahead at Kala Patthur and Pumori.
Next day we crossed the Ngozumpa Glacier.

Same 3 aging climbers, totaling 190 years, summited Island Peak at 20,306 ft (6189 m).
The descent was more challenging than the ascent.

I have too many backpacks
Osprey Stratos is my favorite 

<Previous                     Next>

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nepal 2012 Mountain Slow

Controlled by heartbeat and breathing rate, it's the pace you can sustain all day long.

Many people have asked me 'how far do you walk in a day?' and 'how fast do you walk?'.

'How far' is a flatlander perspective. I can walk many miles at a quick pace, all day long, on the flat prairies of Saskatchewan (Midwestern North America). In the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal there is no flat, so progress is measured in elevation gain, rather than distance covered. My most difficult day in Nepal covered only 2 miles(3 kms), but we climbed a vertical elevation of 3690 feet(1124 m).
'How much elevation' is the Nepalese perspective. 


At any altitude, there is physical exertion to walk and to climb. But at higher altitudes, our bodies deteriorate, muscles balk at working on 50% oxygen levels, and the brain wanes with lethargy. This is the time to learn to walk 'mountain slow'.

 Mountain slow is a style that is sustainable all day long 
without raising our heart rate
without increasing our breathing rate
without sweating
So we must adjust both our stride and our pace to accommodate.

In the low-altitude valleys on flat terrain, we can keep a pace of 3 miles/hour (5 kms/hour), with our full-length strides. Our trekking team kept close together, as we all had similar paces.

As we approach the higher mountains over rugged undulating terrain, we slow our pace and shorten our stride, and adopt our own individual 'mountain slow'. When climbing steps, I would move 6 feet(2 m) laterally to avoid a 6 inch(20 cm) rise. This saved a lifting effort, while giving my body a rest and kept my heart rate and breathing rate normal. Our trekking team had a wide range of 'mountain slows', so we often got strung out and completed our days at different times.

But at the high-altitudes above 21,000 ft (6000 m), on 60%-74% slopes, we climb VERY slowly.  
  • Plant a foot.
  • Rest 30 seconds.
  • Struggle with mind demanding GO, and legs retaliating with NO
  • Force your body to raise and plant the other foot.
  • Rest 30 seconds.
  • Check your stride. A full stride is less than the length of my boot!
  • Force your mind and body to repeat, mindlessly. For hours.

At high altitudes we are very aware of the primary functions of our bodies. We don't think.  
Consciousness is focused on the feel of our heart, and the feel of our breathing.  
If we start breathing faster or feel our heart rate increasing ... STOP RIGHT NOW! ... slow our breathing and heart rate back to normal.  It takes humility and discipline to stay at our own personal 'mountain slow' pace. Continuing to push often results in an instant, screamer, fall-to-your-knees headache (This is a symptom of Altitude Sickness, and the only treatment is to descend). Many times we see powerful young climbers push beyond their mountain slow, and are forced to descend. And we also see older not-so-strong climbers keeping their mountain slow, and methodically reach a summit.

Mountain Slow isn't a measurable pace.  
It's a humble acknowledgment of personal ability
and the discipline to stay within.


<Previous               Next>

Friday, February 15, 2013

Nepal 2012 No-Stink Icebreakers

Trekking and Climbing in Nepal, I wore Icebreaker Merino Wool 24 hours a day, for 36 days, with NO washes. My trekking partners will agree - these Icebreakers are No-Stink!

Last year I also trekked in Nepal, and brought back some valuable experience for this Nepal 2012 adventure. Clothes washing opportunities while trekking and climbing in Nepal are few or none, so I should expect to travel the entire 36 days, wearing the same clothes without washing.  The polypropylene and fleece clothes I wore last year were synthetic and ultimately they both got clammy and stinky. I needed clothes that were breathable, warm in the cold, cool in the heat, quick-drying, and non-stinky... even after 36 days without a wash.
Those Merino Sheep must be smart. The wool protects from the sun and keeps me cool in the summer heat. With layering, it keeps me warm in the harsh mountain-cold of Nepal. I was pleasantly surprised the wool was soft and non-itchy.

I took just 3 sets of socks. I kept one special pair of HikeLites for sleeping. For trekking and climbing, I wore double-layers of socks - Icebreaker HikeLiners with Hike+Mids. Twice in 36 days, I rinsed these trekking socks in a cold stream, without soap, and hung them to dry on my backpack. In the very cold weather they didn't completely dry, so I pushed them to the bottom of my sleeping bag and dried them overnight with body heat.  Not wanting to repeat the sleeping-bag-dryer experience, I decided not to wash them again :).

Trekking in those sweaty hot days, I wore an Icebreaker Short Sleeve Tee. It wicked the sweat away, and kept me cool. I wore this same Tee as a night-shirt. I wore this same Tee as a base layer as temperatures dropped in the mountains. I wore this Tee all of 24 hours a day for 36 days. Without a wash!

On our approach to the Everest Base Camp region, I added an Icebreaker Everyday Long Sleeve Crewe200 as a second layer. These 2 layers kept me properly temperature-controlled when trekking during the day, and also for sleeping each night. I wore these 2 layers 24 hours a day, for about 3 weeks. Without a wash! I also started wearing a Pocket Hat-200 (for sleeping and for trekking on cold days).

As we gained elevation at Gokyo Ri (5417m/17,772ft), Chola Pass (5370m/17,618ft), Kala Patthur (5554m/18,221ft), Island Peak (6189m/20,305ft), I added a third layer with an Icebreaker Tech Long Sleeve Half Zip-260. I wore these 3 layers 24 hours a day, for about 10 days. Without a wash!

Initially I choked on the Icebreaker prices, but now having used them in extreme conditions I believe they are great value! They are cool in the heat, and warm in the cold. My only regret is choosing a grey Short Sleeve Tee... should have been red or orange for better pictures! And wish I had bought Arm Warmers - would have been so convenient to add some warmth without stopping and removing my backpack.

For trekking and climbing
these Icebreakers are now my unchallenged clothing of choice.

<Previous              Next>

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nepal 2012 Ostomates Only - Disposals

Traveling in the 3rd world. Moving every day for 36 days. Staying in tents and lodges. What do I do with poop and used ostomy supplies?

Toilet facilities are a difficult adjustment for many people, especially for non-ostomates. Many times, members of our trekking team would wish for an ostomy, so they could avoid using these toilets.

Here is an example of a typical, clean toilet. For non-ostomates, the procedure is to squat on the 'bear paws', and dump in the porcelain bowl. The plumbing cannot handle toilet paper, so 'soiled tissue' is tossed into the red basket (to be later burned by the proprietor). To flush, you fill the red jug with water from the black barrel and swish it down the bowl.  Any 'misses' are to be cleaned with the brush.  Even after weeks, some people don't really adjust.
Plumbing in Nepal is weak. The pipes are small, and flushing is low volume. Hence the need to burn 'soiled tissue paper' rather than flush it, because it plugs the plumbing pipes. 

At home I used Convatec single-use closed-end pouches ... 1 per day. Normally I get 5-6 days use from a flange (with the exception of heat and cold problems. See Ostomates Only - Heat Induced and Ostomates Only - Cold Induced).

From my experience in Nepal the year before, I knew that disposal of a pouch every day was difficult. I experimented at home and decided to use the the ColoMajic liners. I used 1 liner each day, and a pouch lasted 5 days. Disposal would be much more convenient and environmentally-friendly, and I would carry fewer ostomy supplies.

In practice, in Nepal, the ColoMajic liners were an amazing improvement over single-use pouches. Following is my experience on disposals during my Nepal 2012 Adventure.

Sit Toilets 
At home, I would just drop the liner and contents into the bowl, flush, and its gone ... never a problem.  With the weak Nepalese plumbing, a single 'flush' was seldom enough. Of course there was never a plunger, and after my first event I learned to squeeze to remove part of the contents before dropping the liner into the bowl.  

Bear Paw Toilets
I just dropped the liner and contents into the bowl. Usually a single 'flush with the water jug' was enough. Sometimes it took 2-3 flushes, but the bowl always cleared.  

Pit Toilets
Colomajic Liners were easy ... just drop them into the pit. It's all biodegradable, like the rest of the contents of the pit, except for the small amount of plastic in the liners. Colomajic is now developing a new biodegradable liner, made of cornstarch, that I will take on future adventure travels.

Trail-side Stops
Natural cycles didn't always match our trekking schedule. I pass most volume between 9am and 10am and prefer to change liners at mid-morning.  But we often started trekking at 7am, so by mid-morning we were nowhere near our tent site or lodge toilet. Sometimes I was lucky and found an unlocked toilet and used that for disposal. Usually I just stood to the side of the trail, did the change, and carried a sealed bag of poop in my backpack all day... discarding it that evening at our new lodge or tent site toilet. Sometimes it was tempting to just fling it beyond the trail... but I never did.

Overflow Stop
Just once, I had a nasty case of diarrhea, and nowhere convenient to stop to change. I had waited too long, and the bag was completely full and pressurized. I hoped there was some gas that could be released, but it was all liquid. When I detached the bag from the flange, the contents spilled, and I dropped the bag. I felt terrible leaving the mess on the ground, so I covered it with rocks. I put on a new bag&liner, then sealed the old bag&liner and carried it the rest of the day to be burned that evening at our new tent-site.

Normal Flange Changes
I changed flanges in the lodge toilets or in my own tent. I put the old flange, wrappings, and toilet paper in a plastic bag, tied the bag tightly, and left it with the garbage to be burned. Sounds awful, but I have talked with local Nepalese, and I have had personal experience burning poop-bags in a cabin wood stove and on campfires ... the contents dry, burn, and disappear very quickly in a hot fire... and without a noticeable smell.

Mountain-Top Flange Failure
Near the top of a mountain my flange completely detached. I put the flange and pouch in a Ziploc bag and carried it down the mountain to be burned. This story deserves it's own post - see Ostomates Only - Skipping Stones.

Use of these varied toilets was often discussed by our trekking team.
The general consensus was that 

My (ostomy) disposal methods 
were more pleasant than 
Their (original equipment) disposal methods :)

                                  You can read more about ColoMajic here 

<Previous                   Next>

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nepal 2012 Khumbu Cough

Nearly all people who spend time at extreme altitude (over 14,000ft or 4267m) will develop some degree of the Khumbu cough. Some attribute this to a bronchial infection from bacteria borne by the dust. Others believe it to be a lung irritation caused by altitude, dry cold air, and extreme exertion.  

Lung Irritation at High Altitudes
Khumbu Cough may be caused by the low humidity and sub zero temperatures experienced at altitude, and triggered by over exertion. This leads to an increased breathing rate, which exposes the delicate lung lining to excess cold air, resulting in dried membranes and partially damaged bronchi. This causes extreme irritation which manifests itself in the form of a dry, persistent cough which can restrict breathing. Eventually the cough can be so violent and put so much strain on the chest cavity that it causes its victim to tear chest muscles or break ribs.

Bronchial Infections
The Namche Trail has been a major trade route for many generations, for goods being carried between China and Nepal. The trail is usually dusty. With the high altitude and thin air, we can't get enough air through our noses, so we relent and breathe through our mouths.  This dries out the mouth, tongue, and lungs. Breathing the fine dust starts the coughing. But the dust is laden with bacteria from thousands of years of urine, feces, snot, spit, and phlegm from humans, horses, mules, yaks, and jopkeys. The bacteria starts a lung infection. Yak-dung smoke permeates the air, further aggravating the lungs. 

Whatever the cause, we cough incessantly. Day and night. It's hard to sleep. Within a few days the coughing delivers clear phlegm, and over the next few days it turns white, then green, then brown. Some people cough blood (fortunately I didn't). Lungs, throat, and ribs hurt from the violent and frequent coughing. Cough suppressants help us sleep, but inhibit the coughing necessary to clear the lungs. Weeks after descending to lower altitudes and higher humidity, the coughing stops (unclear if the Antibiotics, or the lower altitude, or the higher humidity cured the condition)

We all cough and spit and add our bacteria back to the trail, and as we walk we all stir up the dust.

Trekkers and Porters

Horses and Mules

Yaks and Jopkeys

Those with prior experience with the Khumbu Cough wear buffs to filter the dust. 
Buffs don't prevent the Khumbu Cough ... just delay it, so we spend fewer days caughing on the mountain.

Other measures to delay the Khumbu Cough include
  • avoid over-exertion (this idea caused great laughter, resulting in more coughing fits)
  • keep lungs moist by drinking more fluids and wearing a balaclava

More climbers are stopped by the Khumbu Cough, than by frostbite or altitude sickness or bad weather.

The Khumbu Cough is an inevitable part of trekking and climbing in the high altitudes of Nepal. 
Unpleasant, but part of the adventure.

<Previous                        Next>
<<Follow this story from the beginning

Monday, February 4, 2013

Nepal 2012 Julbo Eye Protection

Brilliant sun, reflective snow, and high altitude is a recipe for eye-damage. Julbo Eyewear gave me the eye protection I needed for my Nepal 2012 adventure.

Trekking and climbing without eye protection could result in incredibly painful snow blindness or permanent eye damage. I decided to take 2 pairs of sunglasses. Firstly, so I would have a backup in case a pair was lost or broken. And secondly, to match the right sunglasses to a variety of demanding conditions. I chose Julbo Explorer and Julbo Whoops, both with the best quality lenses available.

Where the mountains were covered with snow and ice, and the sun was blinding, I wore my Julbo Explorers. They reduced visible light transmission down to 5%, and gave me maximum protection from the harsh sunlight in these extreme conditions. The comfort and fit was excellent, even while wearing a toque or a helmet.

For trekking in the harsh subtropical sunlight, or approaching the snow-covered mountains, or meeting Holy Men in Pashupatinath, I wore my Julbo Whoops. I liked the wrap-around coverage to protect from glare, and they fit and stayed in place even with sharp athletic movements.

We trekked to the village of Gudel, where few traveling-guests have been before. Many of the people do not really know what they look like, as they have no printed pictures and no mirrors.  Their best images are from looking at a reflection of themselves in still water. As a courtesy and a personal connection, I always show people their picture.  I had taken pictures of these 3 women, then showed the pictures to the elder woman. She was in awe, and couldn't imagine or understand how that magic camera worked!

<Previous                        Next>