A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: irinar

On My Way!!!

In Hong Kong Airport

I've set up this blog for all of those who are interested or curious to see how my Mt. Everest Base Camp trek unfolds (i.e. to see if I make it!) or just want to see some beautiful pictures of this amazing region.

I am now in an airport lounge at the Hong Kong airport ... on my way towards Everest! But for those who don't know how this started or why I, who have never done anything like this before or even hiked much since I was younger, jumped at this adventure ... let me explain.

3 months ago I found myself listening to Werner Berger, the oldest North American to summit Mt. Everest a few days short of his 70th Birthday ... and the oldest in the world to summit the 7 highest peaks on each continent. He mentioned that there were only 4 spots left on this trek he was leading to Everest Base Camp. This was only open to others, like myself, who were partnered with the same health company as Werner and I had heard that there were some pretty high profile and amazing (not to mention super successful) people coming on this trek. Spurred on by the excitment of my friend and business partner, Madalina, it took me all but 5 minutes to decide I was going. It was after this decision that I realized what I was getting myself into and I have to credit my mom for this - I've learned to say "yes" first and then work out the "how" after! Well, needless to say I had to get fit fast, especially as I've been somewhat blissfully avoiding this concept most of my life!

Anyways, fast forward to now ... only 3 months later and many daily training hikes and hours of hair-pulling shopping for gear, and I'm off! If you'd like to join me, I'm glad to share this with you by posting the progress and photos on this blog (I have been told that internet access is sporadic, though, but I'll try my best). I've posted some photos of my training hikes in the meantime (maybe just to brag about how beautiful Vancouver is!).

For those who don't know the details of the trek to Everest Base Camp, here's some insight:

Total days trekking: 19
Hours of trekking: 3-7 hours per day
Height of highest elevation we'll be trekking to: 5,545 meters (18,192 feet)
Oxygen levels at base camp: 50% oxygen compared to us in Vancouver!
Irina's concern about altitude sickness: relatively high but manageable!

I'll keep you all posted along the way!

Posted by irinar 18:43 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (3)

In Kathmandu ... along with some political unrest

I arrived in Kathmandu a couple of days ago and had a few surprises. Apparently, there has been some political unrest here for the past few days. The Communist (Maoists) rebels are in conflict with the current government and wanting power. They have rallied the people of Nepal in gathering and protesting in the streets.

My first day in Kathmandu I headed out into town with a few others. What a strange, interesting, and somewhat intimidating scene to see masses of groups coming down a narrow street, chanting and waving communist flags with police in full padded uniforms close behind and the occasional UN vehicles passing through. But before I worry many of you unnecessarily, we have been keeping away from all of this and are content strolling down side streets where no problems are found (and far from downtown where all the protests are). The only real inconvenience (or maybe its a blessing?) is the fact that the government has closed all shops so communication via internet/phone has been a bit more difficult.

Now, all the lighter news - Kathmandu as a city is ... interesting. On one side, the poverty is quite striking. Walking down the street is difficult without being approached by numerous people asking for money and avoiding the smells is impossible. On the other side, I find their spiritual beliefs quite fascinating. A couple of us hired someone who wanted to help us so desperately to show us around one of the temple squares. In one of the temples, there are 4 different statues of the elephant, ganesh. One of them symbolized happiness and our street-tour guide was telling me that when the people feel so sad that they want to cry, they come to this god and they are then happy and nothing can make them sad again ... wow, even in this poverty-ridden environment with so little options, people find a way to be happy. Some perspective for everyone, really.

Tomorrow we fly to Lukla to begin our actual trekking. We've had all our safety briefings (such as ALWAYS yield to yaks - apparently they can be quite angry sometimes!) so I think we are as prepared as possible for now.

Until next time,

Irina

Political Protesters gathering in Kathmandu

Political Protesters gathering in Kathmandu

Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

Monkey Temple

Monkey Temple

Cricket in the streets of Kathmandu

Cricket in the streets of Kathmandu

Posted by irinar 06:45 Comments (2)

In Namche Bazaar ... and going higher!

Two days ago we left the political unrest in Kathmandu (which I hear has now turned violent) behind and had an early 45 minute flight to Lukla. Flying in a 17 passenger plane, me gripping the seat in front of me for dear life, we flew right in between two mountain faces to land on the shortest airstrip.

Our Plane

Our Plane

After catching my breath and when I began to feel my legs again, we began a relatively easy 4 hour hike to Pakding. Everywhere we looked there was the most amazing scenery of mountain ranges and valleys. In Pakding, there was an optional hike which I decided to join. There were only 7 of us (mostly experienced hikers, marathon runners, and then me, the only female) who ascended a big climb up to the monastery. This is when I surprised myself immensely… somehow, I am able to keep up with some of the most fit hikers (!) and feel great after, too. Mom says its my determination rather than training – I have to say, I think it’s a bit of both.

At the monastary - 1st acclimitization hike

At the monastary - 1st acclimitization hike

Yesterday we left Pakding and embarked on our supposedly most difficult climb to Namche Bazar (most difficult because it is the most elevation gain in the shortest period of time). It took us nearly 7 hours. Again I surprised myself, finding myself always at the front of the group. Some people were of course struggling up the steep climb with little oxygen which I was expecting for myself. However, I don’t want to get too ahead of myself as there is much higher altitude we will be going to. It is so interesting to see how my body is reacting to the change in elevation. My resting heart rate this morning was 76 although normally only at 60 beats per minute – so it seems my heart is doing all the extra work to get the oxygen through my system. I also was running up some short stairs and had to pause to catch my breath.

For the past couple of days we were hoping to catch glimpses of Everest mountain but the weather has other plans for us with all the cloud cover. This morning, though, I woke up to the most beautiful mountain views I’ve ever seen outside my window. As we embarked on our acclimatization hike this morning, we came across some indescribable views (I don’t think the pictures will do it justice!). We saw the 4th highest peak in the world (Lhotse) and were straining to see Everest but it didn’t peak out of the clouds as we had hoped … it seems we will have to wait another day for this.

Lukla to Pakding

Lukla to Pakding


Leaving Phakding

Leaving Phakding


Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge


2 heroes - Werner and Edna

2 heroes - Werner and Edna


Arriving on Namche

Arriving on Namche


View of Lhotse (4th highest peak)

View of Lhotse (4th highest peak)


Me with Namche behind me

Me with Namche behind me

Everest behind me but behind a cloud; Lhotse on right

Everest behind me but behind a cloud; Lhotse on right


Mountain view from Namche

Mountain view from Namche

Acclimatization hike - Namche

Acclimatization hike - Namche


Hiking up from Namche

Hiking up from Namche


Werner and I

Werner and I

Namche Bazar behind me

Namche Bazar behind me

Posted by irinar 02:18 Comments (2)

Namche to Khumjung to Tengbouche to Pheriche to 4700 meters!

Just remembering to put one foot in front of the other

Today we hiked as high as 4700 meters. The air is definitely thinner and we are all breathing harder but getting up to this point is amazing - well worth the effort. The days are getting long and for the past few days of hiking, I've found it hard to focus on anything but the boots in front of me ... just remembering to take one step and then another step. This hike is by no means easy and a lot of endurance is necessary. Although I still find myself in the first "fast" group, it is still a tedious climb up the mountain. Some days we are climbing mostly up, other days we go down valleys and then up again. This is a concern as the way back will not be easy by any means.

Three days ago we left Namche Bazaar, heading toward Khumjung. Unfortunately we still weren't blessed by the weather and found ourselves staring out into a thick fog were Everest should be, so some imagination was necessary!

Everest (Use your imagination - it's just behind the clouds!)

Everest (Use your imagination - it's just behind the clouds!)


Town of Khumjung

Town of Khumjung


Prayer wheels in Khumjung (always spin with right hand and always walk left around)

Prayer wheels in Khumjung (always spin with right hand and always walk left around)

Town of Khumjung - Yaks

Town of Khumjung - Yaks

Khumjung to Tengbouche

Khumjung to Tengbouche

Khumjung to Tengbouche 2

Khumjung to Tengbouche 2

Valleys and Cliffs - Khumjung to Tengbouche

Valleys and Cliffs - Khumjung to Tengbouche

The next morning we left for a relatively long hike. But the long trek, and being in the first group really paid off - as we arrived at our destination, Tengbouche, we caught our first quick glimpse of Everest... What an amazing sight! Unfortunately,the slower groups missed the sight this evening as clouds quickly took over.

1st view of Everest! (From Tengbouche)

1st view of Everest! (From Tengbouche)

1st view of Everest! (From Tengbouche) 2

1st view of Everest! (From Tengbouche) 2

1st view of Everest! (From Tengbouche) 3

1st view of Everest! (From Tengbouche) 3

Monks who blessed us at world's highest monastary in Tengbouche

Monks who blessed us at world's highest monastary in Tengbouche

Morning Everest view (Tengbouche)

Morning Everest view (Tengbouche)

But yesterday morning ... wow! I woke up at the usual 5am to an amazing view outside my "room." Everest and all the mountain ranges just crystallizing through the fog. It is so hard to describe it. Every direction you turn there are the most amazing mountain ranges. Before leaving, we were blessed by the local Buddhist Llama and off we went for another long hike. Yesterday we arrived in Pherishe (at aprox. 4200 meters) and are still here acclimatizing until tomorrow morning.

On our way - Tengbouche to Pherishe

On our way - Tengbouche to Pherishe

Tengbouche to Pherishe

Tengbouche to Pherishe

Tengbouche to Pherishe 2

Tengbouche to Pherishe 2

Tengbouche to Pherishe 3

Tengbouche to Pherishe 3

Rest break with a view - Tengbouche to Pherishe

Rest break with a view - Tengbouche to Pherishe

Tengbouche to Pherishe 4

Tengbouche to Pherishe 4

Today's acclimatization hike to 4700 meters was unbelievable - amazing mountain ranges in every direction. They are so sharp and magnificent that it seems we can just reach out and touch them! In fact, I think they are relatively close as we are only 2 days away from our destination at Everest Base Camp!

Acclimitization hike (Pheriche)

Acclimitization hike (Pheriche)

Acclimitization hike (Pheriche) - Teahouse below

Acclimitization hike (Pheriche) - Teahouse below

Acclimitization hike (Pheriche) 2

Acclimitization hike (Pheriche) 2


Acclimitization hike (Pheriche) 3

Acclimitization hike (Pheriche) 3

Most of the group are having some trouble with the altitude - whether it's as little as stomach upsets or headaches or more problematic for some such as feeling completely exhausted in bed or fainting or fever. It is scary that two of our fittest hikers were feeling quite ill. As for me, I'm still surprisingly ok (just a little short of breath at times which is normal at this altitude) but I can't take it for granted as anything can happen here. Many people have a loss of appetite and are not eating much, whereas I'm eating more than I've ever had to keep my energy levels up. But everyone assures me I am still burning more calories than I can ever eat during these long days. In the evenings we generally play cards or tell stories - it is amazing to speak to Werner about all the mountains he's summited, including how he reached the summit of Everest.

Posted by irinar 23:41 Comments (6)

We Made It!!!

Yes, we did, and it was amazing! Two days ago we finally made it to Everest Base Camp. As it's been a couple of days since I have been able to access internet, let me update you a bit.

Two days before arriving to Base Camp the scenery and terrain changed dramatically. We went from trees and shrubs to absolutely nothing but rocks and dirt ... but amazing mountains right in front of us. Everything looked as if we were on a different planet ... something like what I imagine Mars would look like. It was a very difficult climb for two days for absolutely everyone. It is amazing that I was still ok with the altitude given that about 80-90% of our group had some problems and many were on medications for altitude sickness. It is nothing to play around with at this elevation!

Changing scenery - Pheriche to Lobuche

Changing scenery - Pheriche to Lobuche


P1000459.jpgCarrying wood up the mountain

Carrying wood up the mountain

Pheriche to Lobuche

Pheriche to Lobuche

Pheriche to Lobuche 2

Pheriche to Lobuche 2

Here comes Edna!

Here comes Edna!

Me

Me

The day before arriving at Base Camp, we passed through the the section where monuments were set up for many climbers who had passed away on their attempt to summit Everest. It was an eerie feeling walking through this and my admiration for Werner having summitted at nearly 70 is unbelievable.

Scott Fisher's Memorial

Scott Fisher's Memorial

Memorials to those who didn't make it back - on the smaller ridge

Memorials to those who didn't make it back - on the smaller ridge

Memorials for those who didn't make it back

Memorials for those who didn't make it back

Memorial to a Vancouverite

Memorial to a Vancouverite


On the way to Lobuche

On the way to Lobuche


Acclimitization hike (Lobuche)

Acclimitization hike (Lobuche)

Acclimitization hike (Lobuche) and me

Acclimitization hike (Lobuche) and me


Acclimitization hike (Lobuche) - The Khumbu Glacier is below me on the right

Acclimitization hike (Lobuche) - The Khumbu Glacier is below me on the right

The day of the big hike to Base Camp was long and tiring. We started early (5:30) and went for many hours before reaching it.

On our way to Base Camp - this is the day!

On our way to Base Camp - this is the day!

On our way to Base Camp

On our way to Base Camp

Almost at Base Camp - You can see the yellow tents

Almost at Base Camp - You can see the yellow tents

The terrain was difficult (lots of jumping from boulder to boulder). But once I got there, there was such cheering and hugging!

Made it!!!

Made it!!!

Many took much longer to arrive which gave me time to go further into Base Camp. It is not at all what I expected. There are about 500 tents scattered aver rocky, hilly, and icy terrain that spans along and to the bottom of the Kumbu Icefalls (a good hour hike each way to get across all of it). There are amazing ice formations everywhere you look, including large boulders perched atop ice crystals. But travelling for too long in this area left me exhausted. And then the snow and wind started. I made my way back to where most of the group stopped - at the entry sign saying "Everest Base Camp; Elevation 5,364 meters." I had bought some Prayer flags earlier and had written on each flag the name of those people in my life that I wished to share this experience with, and a note to each. I strung the prayer flags at Base Camp so each of you can have a permanent spot there, too ... I (along with many others) had quite an emotional experience at this point and I can't wait to share it with you when I return.

This is Base Camp

This is Base Camp


Ice formations at Base Camp

Ice formations at Base Camp

Ice formations at Base Camp 2

Ice formations at Base Camp 2

Ice Formations at Base Camp and Me

Ice Formations at Base Camp and Me

Tents at Base Camp

Tents at Base Camp

Base Camp

Base Camp

Rock on Ice

Rock on Ice

Khumbu Icefalls (this is were the ascent up Everest begins)

Khumbu Icefalls (this is were the ascent up Everest begins)

Me

Me

Prayer Flags at Base Camp

Prayer Flags at Base Camp


Leaving Base Camp

Leaving Base Camp

After staying at Base Camp for a couple of hours, it was time to leave ... Many were so exhausted and ill at this point that it took them a long time to arrive back at our accommodation in Gorak Shep. We were all exhausted but I, at least, was exhilarated by the experience. It is amazing that we all made it to Base Camp. When we left Kathmandu, our trip organizer, Naba, predicted based on previous treks that only about 60% of the group will make it. We also passed a lady who came with 4 friends and she was the only one to make it (as I said, this is no easy trek!).

The last couple of days were also tiresome - it just never ends :-) Although we are heading down, today's hike was very high up then down and it was one of my hardest days. But we are now back in Namche Bazaar and I was rewarded with the best shower I have ever had ... Not the best feeling when no showers available for over a week!

Posted by irinar 03:07 Comments (6)

Almost Home ... and almost didn't make it out of Nepal!

I'm almost home - now in Hong Kong where I've been at our Convention for the past few days ... I feel it took me several days to process everything and get back to "regular" life (although Hong Kong is still far from what I'm used to!)

The final two days of trekking to get back to Lukla where we would fly to Kathmandu took the last morsel of energy we had. The last day we trekked all the way from Namche to Lukla in 1 long day - the same route took us 2 days coming up (but I can say it was not easy coming down either ... I had to keep remembering that comng down was not, in fact, just downhill .... but as everything else it was down, then up, then down, then up, then down ... and up (AGAIN!) ... and so on.

Children inside temple walls

Children inside temple walls

Sherpa trail we took toward Panboche (if you look closely you can see the people!)

Sherpa trail we took toward Panboche (if you look closely you can see the people!)

Along the trail (Gorak Shep-Lobuche-Pangboche)

Along the trail (Gorak Shep-Lobuche-Pangboche)

Me and the guides

Me and the guides

At the end of the hardest hill on my hardest day (toward Namche)

At the end of the hardest hill on my hardest day (toward Namche)

If you can believe, there is a porter carrying this massive load up the mountain

If you can believe, there is a porter carrying this massive load up the mountain

Pony fashion

Pony fashion

Me and Phil and Penny Kirk (they are amazing)

Me and Phil and Penny Kirk (they are amazing)

Exit from Sagamartha National Park

Exit from Sagamartha National Park

Village life

Village life

Goats

Goats

When we arrived in Lukla it felt like a celebration - such an unbelievable accomplishment for everyone. A few of us spent the evening with a well-deserved beer and playing left-right-center (a dice game) with the local porters and guides.

The most deserved beer I have ever had (in Lukla)

The most deserved beer I have ever had (in Lukla)

A game of Left-Right-Center

A game of Left-Right-Center

We had one evening in Lukla and then flights (on the small 17 passenger plane) were booked to leave Lukla early the next morning. I woke up at 5am the next morning to see a thick fog outside my window. Since I and 13 others were on the first flight out, our small group hiked the 10 minutes to the small airport in Lukla. However, it never happened - we were stuck for the day in Lukla as no planes were going in or out due to the fog. We were told it was a very "technical flight" out of this airport, one of the most dangerous airports in the word, and that perfect weather is needed to fly. Two people missed their connecting flights out of Kathmandu and the rest of us were just praying for good weather the next day or we would also be in the same situation.

Lukla airport runway (most dangerous!). Yes, that is a cliff it goes off of (and behind the clouds are 2 big mountain!)

Lukla airport runway (most dangerous!). Yes, that is a cliff it goes off of (and behind the clouds are 2 big mountain!)


Me and guides at airport

Me and guides at airport

Zak, Collette and I

Zak, Collette and I

The next morning? More fog. It didn't look good so the vast majority elected to pay the extra $500 for a helicopter (praying for some luck). Well, with only 5-6 people per helicopter, many trips had to be organized or another option arranged (Trust me, this was no easy task). The first group of 5 got out quickly in the morning ... then the second group got out about 3 hours later. We had been told that a 24 (!) seater helicopter was available to take the rest of us. The day before we were told there was no pilot to fly it ... but apparently one was located for today. YAY! Except then I found out it's an old Russian military helicopter (one that they no longer make spare parts for) and I would "have the ride of my life on it." Someone gave me a pill for the flight ... I was not the only one who needed it. At 9am we were told it had left and was heading for Lukla airport. We were all peering out the windows anticipating this monstrosity roaring in on this tiny runway. It never came ... and around 12pm we were told it was not coming.

I learned something interesting about the Nepalese culture around this time ... Throughout the day, we were constantly told helicopters were coming, then not, leaving but never left. During our trek, we were often told it's an easy downhill (see above - it was not easy and not even downhill!) Apparently the Nepalese hate giving bad news so we were constantly told good news ... you can imagine what this feels like after hanging around this tiny airport with no food for 2 days!

- Passing time at Lukla airport

So back to our day .... finally around 1:30, two 6-seater helicopters came drfiting in through a break in the clouds. 12 of us ran out to get on, our bags were stuffed in the side compartments ... it took only 5 minutes, and then the worst fog we had seen all day rolled in. We were grounded. We all sat on the ledge of the helicopter (I think we would have chained ourselves to it if we could have!). All we needed was a little break in the clouds. After an hour on the runway, the rain started and we all got worried when the pilot got out to go to the local teahouse for lunch, saying "it doesn't look good." It was about 2:30 by this time and no helicoptor can leave after about 4pm.

I thought we were leaving (I was so excited after 2 days at the airport!)

I thought we were leaving (I was so excited after 2 days at the airport!)

Not going anywhere yet!

Not going anywhere yet!

Not looking good at all!

Not looking good at all!

Just as I was coming to peace with the idea that I would miss my flight to Hong Kong that evening, miracle of miracles - around 3:30pm, a small break in the clouds and we were able to leave!!! Athough I was gripping onto the people on either side of me and had my eyes squeezed shut most of the way, I occasionally peeked out. Wow, what an ending to the trip! We passed through these amazing valleys and approached rising cliffs head-on, almost as if we were going to fly right through them!

Finally in the helicopter and ready for take off (Miracle!!)

Finally in the helicopter and ready for take off (Miracle!!)

Once in Kathmandu, I had about 2 hours before leaving for Hong Kong. I had a quick shower at the hotel and I laughed at myself as I think I forgot how to use it! I have a number of bruises from that shower experience ... more than on the entire trip!

Although I've been in Hong Kong now for several days, I'm finding it hard to imagine where I was just a few short days ago. The massive skyscrapers and craziness of Honk Kong are in such contrast to the mountain ranges and small villages I just left. My time there was so momentous on so many levels that I will write a final entry when I get back to share some of those impressions with you. And, yes, those photos will come then too.

Werner speaking to nearly 8,000 people in Hong Kong about our trek - oh, and my picture!

Werner speaking to nearly 8,000 people in Hong Kong about our trek - oh, and my picture!

Posted by irinar 21:34 Comments (0)

An Ending ... or not?

I've been back in Vancouver now for nearly a month. I don't know where the time went as I still feel like I'm surrounded by the amazing Himalayan mountain ranges and Nepalese spirit. It took me some time (about 2 weeks) for my body to feel normal again. Everything in my mind seemed to have slowed down. I was sleeping until past noon and eating pretty much everything in sight - it was hard to break the habit of eating every hour and resisting all the yummy food we have here! I haven't had any Indian food since I got back and it may be awhile before I crave it again.

I've put off writing this post for so long now that I'm questioning if it's because I'm resisting that this is really an ending. This entire experience has really opened up a whole new world for me - one that I never even knew about, let alone thought I would find myself a part of.

During the long uphill hikes, Werner asked us to ponder the question "Who Am I?" which I'm sure is not an easy question for anyone. But some of what I learned about myself and others in that amazing space will stay with me for a long time. Sure, I realized how much I loved hiking and the challenges of mountaineering - and maybe could even see myself one day at the top of Everest (after much more practice!). I also realized I can do a lot more than I thought with the power of determination and feel confident in facing physical challenges (albeit slowly at first). But the lessons were much deeper than that.

One of the biggest lessons I learned is how powerful we all are to transcend the limitations that we think we have. This I learned,
From Edna - who reached Base Camp with us at the age of 84 (a record-breaker for sure).
From Werner - who summitted the tallest mountain at the age of 69 and inspires all of us to lead by example (and wants to do it again at 77!).
From Phil and Penny Kirk - who've designed their own rules and enjoy a life of adventure and seem to love everyone they meet.
From Collette - who went from a single mom struggling to feed five children to having everything she dreamed of for her family and supporting those with Cystic Fibrosis - and stepping way out of her comfort zone to be on this trek (by the way, the back of their family's t-shirts on the trek read: "In Memory of Lexi, To Honor Sharlie, With Hope for Ben, Lauren, and all those who fight to breathe"). If you know this family, it would bring tears to your eyes, too.
From all the amazing people I met who each overcame their own immeasurable challenges to be there.

I feel blessed beyond belief to have been a part of this. The perspective I gained is not easily forgotten and the experience not nearly an ending.

(P.S. Check out the previous posts as I've added lots of pictures and videos to the text!)

Posted by irinar 23:49 Comments (0)

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